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Seaport Redevelopment Plan Heads to LPC, Gets Dissed

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Yesterday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission began its look into the proposal put forth by South Street Seaport leaseholder General Growth Properties to replace the tourist-friendly shopping mall on Pier 17 with new shops, boutique hotels, public plazas and, oh yeah, a 42-story waterfront condo/hotel tower. (A refresher of the SHoP Architects' plan appears above, and here's the model). The proposal?a major piece of which is moving the historic Tin Building to the edge of the pier?is a controversial one, and preservation groups such as the Municipal Arts Society have already made their feelings known. The LPC didn't immediately rule on the redevelopment plan, but the three-hour discussion had plenty of fireworks. Curbed Correspondent Noah Adler was in attendance, and his report follows:

The presentation by General Growth and SHoP to the Commission equally covered the plan to "disassemble and reconstruct" the Tin Building and the plan to build a new "boutique hotel" atop street-level retail. Noticeably absent from the presentation (but completely unavoidable in the public session) was the neighboring 42-story mixed-use tower that lies outside the Seaport Historic District.

General Group Properties brought in their historic preservation consultant to discuss the historic context of the site, which she described simply as "water and market," which was "obliterated by 20th century construction." Richard Piper, an architect working on the restoration of the Tin Building, walked the Commission through a detailed presentation on the damage done to the building in the fire of 1995. The only remaining "time capsule" of the original structure lies behind enclosed refrigerator units on the rear of the building. Other portions of the original building to be salvaged will be window and pilaster casings and as many interior cast-iron columns as can support the new structure.

An hour into the presentation, the laptop and projector shut off unexpectedly, prompting one Commissioner to say, "I think it's telling us something." The technology rebounded, however, and Jim Horner from Field Operations spoke about the very detailed plans for the use of open space. The plan for open space will include seating inspired by nautical infrastructure and the ever-popular "interactive water feature" will be situated between the relocated Tin Building and the boutique hotel and retail complex. The "water feature," comprised of lit water fountains that spout up from the ground and will include seating interspersed between the fountains for those not afraid to get wet.

At this point the presentation had run well over an hour and a half, and the Commission resolved to adjourn the hearing without voting following the public testimony - and there was plenty of testimony to be heard. A member of CB1 appeared to appeal to the Commission to delay their vote so that CB1 could provide their resolution in two weeks' time. Three members of the Municipal Arts Society testified to express their belief that the plan should be "firmly rejected." While they agreed that something needs to be done with the tourist trap that is the Seaport, "reconfigured retail spaces and hotels do not seem to be the solution." Additionally, they expressed concern that the relocation of the Tin Building would set a troublesome precedent for the preservation movement.

A number of individuals expressed a desire to preserve - wait for it - the Pier 17 building, on the grounds that it was designed by Ben Thompson, co-founder of The Architects Collaborative. A rep from the Historic District Council went so far as to say that one day, New York might regret its loss of the Seaport mall. The quote of the night, however, went to a woman who curtly stated in reference to the mixed-use tower, "The pseudo-fishnet brings kitsch to a new level."

A fair number of supporters turned out to voice their opinions as well. Bill Brown, executive director of the nearby Shooting Star Theatre, said, "Anything of this magnitude requires some negotiation, but that's what this process is all about, isn't it?" Another supporter: documentary filmmaker Ric Burns (brother of Ken). A young woman read his testimony to the Commisison, which stated, "It seems apparent that the proposal as a whole has been developed with an impressive level of imagination and integrity." His full letter was overall a glowing review of the proposal.

Despite the celebrity endorsement, the plan still suffered a good deal of blows from members of the public, including two former staff of the South Street Seaport Museum. The proposed tower was called a "monster," the plan as a whole considered everything from an overly-designed "theme park" to "civic and historic abuse." The word "Disneyfication" was mentioned on three separate occasions. One woman finally suggested, "Our current economic climate gives us an opportunity to slow down and reconsider our options." And slow down, the Commission did. CB1 will hold a public hearing next week on the matter, and their resolution will be included at the next LPC hearing, "at a future date to be determined."
· South Street Seaport coverage [Curbed]