What will be the Future of the South Street Seaport?
November 13, 2007
The South Street Seaport, an area for decades dismissed as “just for tourists,” has re-emerged in the forefront of New Yorkers’ minds as architects, preservations and local residents wrestle over the waterfront of the future.
It’s been two years since the old salts who hawked their wares at the Fulton Fish Market packed up their ice and grime and decamped for the cleaner climes of the Bronx, clearing the way for the neighborhood’s transformation.
What the feel of the new Seaport will be is still unknown.
“It needs to be weaved into New York City instead of being its isolated, insulated, little world,” said Simeon Bankoff of the Historic District Council. “It’s a neighborhood undergoing an immense amount of change, and there are a lot of interesting ideas about how to fill the void.”
Plans are moving forward quickly. Already in the works is the development of several new high rise buildings that would allow for both residential and commercial uses.
“There is a strong consensus that this is a special place and needs to be preserved,” said Councilman Alan Gerson (D-Manhattan), who represents the area.
In 1979, the city leased the land to The Rouse Company, which attempted to turn the area in a historic theme park like Williamsburg, Va. Those plans were never quite realized, but Pier 17 instead became a “festival marketplace,” with a mall-like building on top.
Today, the Seaport is a hive of tourists, with more than 4 million people visiting per year, more than even the Statue of Liberty.
But it feels cut-off from the rest of the city, a place reserved for visitors only, according to Heather Mangrum, an architect who is leading an “ideas competition” for young architects with the American Institute of Architects to re-imagine the area.
“There are issues for the city here that need to be resolved,” she said. “There is a bunch of old infrastructure, but to me, this is not New York when you see a Gap in a historic building.”
In February, General Growth, which acquired The Rouse Company in 2005, announced plans to replace the mall with a 360-foot mixed-use tower, alarming residents who see their neighborhood reflected in the ever-encroaching glass towers of the nearby Financial District. Just up the road, Forest City Ratner is building a 75-story tower designed by Frank Gehry that will house Pace University, New York University hospital outpatient services as well as residences.
General Growth has also talked about building an 835-foot tower designed by the architect Santiago Calatrava across the street from the Seaport featuring townhouses that would go for as much as $59 million, though plans for the building are on hold.
Spokespeople from General Growth and from the city’s Economic Development Corporation declined to comment on the specifics of the developments.
Already many 19th century buildings have faced the developer’s wrecking ball, most notably 213 Pearl St., New York’s original world trade center, which is being replaced by a hotel.
Changing uses of the Seaport
1815-1860: The Seaport’s heyday as a maritime port
1880-1930: Area slowly declines as ships use west side and New Jersey piers
1966: Community group Friends of South Street Maritime Museum rallies to preserve area from condemnation and abandonment
1979: Rouse Company begins redevelopment of area as “Festival Marketplace”
2007: Plans floated to tear down mall and replace it with high-rise towers.
Source: Encyclopedia of New York City
Copyright © 2007, AM New York