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Fulton Market's 'All-American Mall' Makeover Fails To Impress

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[Before and after images via the Historic Districts Council.]

The Howard Hughes Corporation's efforts to take over the South Street Seaport area hit another snag yesterday, as newly revealed plans for the now-vacant Fulton Market Building failed to impress the members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Hughes aims to undertake a complete renovation of the 1983 building (which is actually the fourth market on the site, built in a historic style). The erstwhile, odorous tourist favorite and iconic structure was first abandoned by the fish market in 2005, when it left for a brand-spanking new building in the Bronx, and the place was also hit hard by Sandy.

Hughes' designs for 11 Fulton Street, which call for new lighting and signage along with other modifications to the exterior of the building, were designed by the prolific SHoP Architects (also responsible for the neighbor-hated 50-story tower Hughes has proposed for the Seaport) in consultation with the preservation firm Higgins Quasebarth & Partners. As reported back in December, the Hughes plan includes an eight-screen, dine-in multiplex run by Boca Raton-based iPic Entertainment. It also calls for boutique stores.

While Barbara Zay of the Historic Districts Council, one of the three people to deliver testimony about the Fulton Market's future at the LPC meeting, was happy there would be no space built for big-box retailers, it did not sway her organization's "anti" stance.

"HDC laments the scattershot planning and philosophical retreat from the market origins of the South Street Seaport, a shift that has been highly contested and discussed in many forums," Zay said. "Discussion of the building's use aside, HDC finds that much of the proposed work does not improve Benjamin Thompson's original design, but rather, is quite unnecessary."

LPC members were similarly concerned with design aspects of proposals for signage, lighting, bluestone paving, and even the windows to be used for the theater portion of the building. Also among the concerns with the proposal is the fact that it removes the last vestiges of the stalls from which fish used to be sold.

Along those lines, also present to speak against the Hughes plan was Christabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City, whose concerns were, in part, echoed by members of the commission. "It is to be regretted that the individual spaces, which recalled the smaller spaces devoted to individual fish market vendors, are now to be incorporated into an undivided entity presumably for a rather different tenancy," she said. "It is hard to understand why either tourists or New Yorkers would seek out an all-American shopping mall in this location." Indeed, one member of the LPC brought up he slow death American shopping malls are now experiencing.

SHoP's designs, though, did not go without some support. Jason Friedman of Manhattan Community Board 1's Landmarks Committee delivered testimony about that body's approval of Hughes' proposal. That support wasn't without reservation, particularly over the removal of the stalls, but the committee ultimately concluded that the overall revival of the area was of greater importance: "The applicant's decision to remove the stalls along South Street is not in keeping with the preservation of the historic fish market. However, the reactivation of South Street between Beekman and Fulton Streets is long overdue."

[Photos of slides presented by SHoP and Howard Hughes at the LPC last night by Evan Bindelglass.]

The hearing closed without action, which means the future of the Fulton Market Building remains uncertain. Stay tuned for future updates on Howard Hughes' efforts to make over Pier 17 and the surrounding historic area.
Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.
· Remnants of Fish Stalls to Vanish with Fulton Market Building Remake [Tribeca Trib]
· All South Street Seaport coverage [Curbed]