Developer Reveals Plans to Counter Pier 17 Noise and Safety Concerns

Rendering of a concert atop Pier 17 mall, with its sculptural coverings over stage and audience The roof is said to have toatal capacity of 4,000 people. Consultants say that an audience of up to about 3,400 people can stand for a concert, and 2,400 can sit for one. Rendering: Howard Hughes Corp.

Mar. 01, 2018

Just two months ago, the specter of loud concerts and 4,000-capacity crowds atop the soon-to-open Pier 17 mall drew worried Seaport residents to a Community Board 1 town hall meeting. They came to vent their fears if not outright hostility towards the executives of Howard Hughes Corp., the project’s developers, who were there to hear their concerns.

Last week the same Hughes representatives stood again before many of the same residents in the Southbridge Towers community room. But this time the developers were accompanied by a slew of consultants armed with exhaustively prepared plans, exhaustingly presented over an hour and a half.

Maybe the residents were bored into submission by all the diagrams, data analyses and talk of magnetometers, transducers and subwoofer directionality. Or maybe the developer’s spare-no-expense plans to avoid potential noise, crowd and safety problems won them over.

Whichever, little of the animus and angst seemed to remain.

Music only where you want it to go. “I know that sounds like magic.”

Conventional concert speakers on Pier 17 would blast the noise into Southbridge Towers apartments and other Seaport buildings, according to an analysis by audio consultants Arup Soundlab. But the latest speaker technology, they maintained, could dampen the offending sounds with a complex array of individually controlled loudspeaker cones that can narrowly direct the music. Some of those cones only cancel straying sound, most importantly, the repeated thud of bass, they said.

Jeffrey Friedlander of SIA Acoustics, the chief sound system designer for the rooftop, put the cost of the hardware alone at more than $750,000. “It involves an incredible amount of digital signal processing to control the system and shoot it in the direction of where you want it to go,” he said, adding, “I realize that sounds like magic.”

Last October, the audio consultants got a “a rare opportunity and a big investment” from Howard Hughes to test a full-scale replica of the sound system on the roof. They cranked up the volume to an ear-splitting 105 decibels and received real-time feedback from monitors in several locations at the Seaport and in Brooklyn. The results: “In general, the music levels were in the lower end of the ambient range,” Friedlander said. In other words, the music could sometimes be faintly heard, he said, but was mostly below other noise, such as a refrigerator motor or the hum of traffic.

CB1 vice chair Paul Hovitz, who had been in his Southbridge Towers apartment during the test, said he heard nothing. But until there is an actual concert, he told the Howard Hughes representatives, “We really will not know, and neither will you.”

“We’ll make sure you’re protected. That’s a commitment.”

The Howard Hughes representatives promised to keep the peace and ease worries about the thousands of concertgoers who will spill into the neighborhood. There will be, they said, a 24-hour Pier 17 security command center, with personnel monitoring more than 100 cameras. Bomb-sniffing dogs and metal detectors will be used for concerts, and foot patrols will walk the neighborhood between Water Street and the East River.

A number has been established—646-822-6990—for non-emergency calls. “Howard Hughes doesn’t even want you to call 311,” said Ed Cannon of the security consultants T&M Protection Services. “We want you to give us a chance to handle it with the resources that we’ve invested into making this a safe venue as well as a good neighbor.”

Paul Kiefer, board president of Southbridge Towers, said he worried about having enough security to handle the “sobriety and demographics” of the concertgoers who would be making their way through the complex.

“We’ll make sure you’re protected, that’s a commitment,” said Howard Hughes executive Saul Scher.

Det. Tommy Moran, the 1st Precinct’s community affairs officer, said that beginning in April the area would have its own community policing officers assigned on a steady basis, “and you’ll get to know them.” He said he expected that more NYPD resources, beyond the 1st Precinct officers, will be made available for concerts.

“We think it’s going to be good for everybody but we also have concerns,” Moran said. “We’re going to be looking at it to make sure it’s safe.”

Crowd Numbers and Crowd Control

Depending on the size of the crowd (an estimated 2,400 people for seated events, 3,400 for standing ones), the rooftop concerts will empty in 20 to 30 minutes, said Frank Supovitz of Fast Traffic Events and Entertainment. Stairs and escalators will “meter” the exodus to about 120 people per minute, he said.

“We believe that roughly a third will peel away to the restaurants on Front Street and Fulton Street or walk down the esplanade to head toward ferries,” he predicted. “The remaining 80 per minute will go to Fulton Street, many to look to catch cabs on Water Street.” About 20 percent more people will be on the street after a concert than on an average weekday between 5 and 5:30 p.m., he said, adding that there would be no impact to the subways. “We'll have people in the neighborhood to make sure that people continue to move along,” Supovitz said.

Concert goers will enter the pier on the north “porch” and be separated from mall visitors, who will use a southern entrance, Supovitz said. “You don’t see them, you don’t hear them, and you don’t encounter them if all you’re doing is walking up to the pier to enjoy the rest of what’s going on here.”

A Timeline of Openings and Events

The rooftop restaurant and bar is expected to open on May 1 with the rest of the one-and-half acre public and performance space fully running on Aug. 1. So far, the only concert for the year is scheduled for August, according to Scherl. (There also may be a July 4 concert.) The concert season extends from May to September. Below in the timeline of some upcoming openings and events for the pier, as presented to the community board.

Scherl said there would not be many concerts this year but, given the uncertainties around continued refinement of the complicated sound system, “there’s no magic number. We want to make sure we get it right.”