Pier 17 Mall Remake Gets a Big Boost from Planning Commission

Rendering of the proposed Pier 17 mall. Developer Howard Hughes Corp. plans to turn building at left, called the Link Building, into an expansive food market.

Rendering courtesy of the Howard Hughes Corporation
Feb. 07, 2013

Plans for a major overhaul of the Pier 17 mall took a big step forward Wednesday when the New York City Planning Commission approved a variety of zoning changes, special permits and a lease between the city and the developer.

The commission gave its OK to most parts of the Howard Hughes Corporation's application to develop a two-story, 60,000 square foot mall, with rooftop public space and a performance venue. But minor and not-so-minor changes include restricted illumination of retail signs, required mooring, and more rooftop space than originally proposed. Perhaps most importantly, the commission nixed a big, controversial sign proclaiming “The Seaport.”

The 18-foot-high, 90-foot-long illuminated sign had been proposed to go atop the redesigned Pier 17 mall and had drawn the ire of Community Board 1, though the Landmarks Preservation Commission had approved it.

At a meeting last month, the commissioners first signaled their strong disapproval of the sign.

“My feeling is we will have blighted—it’s a strong word, but I feel it—the Lower Manhattan waterfront environment forever,” said the commission’s chair, Amanda Burden.

The sign would also have compromised views of the Brooklyn Bridge, she said.

The Pier 17 project is expected to break ground in July, unless it hits an unexpected snag before the New York City Council, when it comes up for a final vote within the next 50 days.

Burden praised the mall project and told the packed hearing that it would be an important "economic boost to the area," bringing more people to the waterfront when the project is completed in 2015.

"Our approval will facilitate the redevelopment of a declining shopping district within the Seaport Historic District that repositions the area into a modern retail destination for not only tourists, but also for local residents and workers,” she said.

After the vote, Michael Levine, CB1’s director of land use and planning, called the Pier 17 makeover “an important economic development project."

"We want to see it happen," he said. "We want to see it succeed."

A Hughes spokesman declined to comment on the rejection of the sign. The company issued a statement saying it was “pleased” with the commission’s approvals, which it said would lead to "transforming the building’s iconic waterfront setting into an energetic, highly engaging destination for shopping, dining and entertainment in Lower Manhattan.”

But store owners in the existing mall have asked that the developer delay construction until after summer so they can recoup some of the considerable losses they incurred during Hurricane Sandy. The Howard Hughes Corporation reportedly wants all tenants out by May.

Because the issue is beyond the purview of CB1, Levine said the board’s hands are tied. He called it a landlord-tenant issue and something the community board has no control over. He said the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which owns the property and leases it to Hughes, wants construction to begin as soon as possible.

“We asked Howard Hughes Corporation to extend the tenants’ leases until the Fall, but that’s their decision not ours,” he said.