David Emil, the restaurateur who ran Windows on the World, has
plans to return to the financial district. Mr. Emil confirmed that he’s one of
several bidders vying to lease and renovate the city-owned Battery Maritime
Building, a historic but rundown ferry terminal adjacent to the South Ferry
terminal at the very tip of lower Manhattan.
Mr. Emil envisions restoring the land marked building’s giant
second floor-once an ornate waiting room for passengers taking a ferry to Brooklyn,
now mainly a dreary storage area-into a restaurant and banquet hall, sources
said. And he’s hired Hugh Hardy, the eminent architect who oversaw Windows on
the World’s 1993 renovation, to design it.
“We’re very committed to downtown, and we think that when it’s
restored it will be one of the great public spaces in New York,” Mr. Emil said.
City officials said no final decision had yet been made about the
Battery Maritime Building and declined to identify competing bidders. But Mr.
Emil’s plan makes deep emotional sense in a neighborhood wracked by tragedy.
Windows on the World’s entire morning shift-79 people-was killed on Sept. 11.
About 350 more employees were left without jobs. Mr. Emil’s prospective
return, advocates for downtown say, would be an important morale boost to a
devastated neighborhood and industry.
“Windows on the World is a symbol,” said Julie Menin, who owns
Vine Restaurant on Broad Street and heads Wall Street Rising, a group founded
recently to help downtown businesses. “I think everyone felt and mourned the
loss of that restaurant.”
Since the attack, Mr. Emil has repeatedly vowed to reopen the
restaurant one day, and rumors that he had his eye on the Battery Maritime
Building have been circulating for weeks. On Dec. 11, the weekly Downtown Express reported that Windows
on the World would “relaunch” there.
But despite superficial similarities-the location, Mr. Hardy’s
participation, stunning views of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty-Mr.
Emil said the proposed new restaurant “is not by any means intended as a
replacement or anything like that for Windows on the World.” He submitted his
bid for the building over the summer, well before the attacks.
“We were excited about it before, and we’re excited about it
now,” Mr. Emil said.
It’s not hard to see why. The Battery Maritime Building is the
ultimate fixer-upper. Designed by Richard Walker and Charles Morris, it was
completed in 1909, at a time when ferries were still a vital means of
transportation between Brooklyn and Manhattan. Commuters waited for the ferry
to 39th Street, in south Brooklyn, in a lobby lined with cast-iron columns and
stained-glass windows. It was “one of New York City’s grand public spaces,”
according to the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which is handling the
The Brooklyn ferry shut down in 1938, and since then the building
has been handed off to a series of city agencies, most recently the Department
of Transportation. Redevelopment schemes have come and gone: In the late
1980’s, a group of developers, including William Zeckendorf Jr. and Richard
Kahan, proposed to incorporate the terminal into the base of a 60-story office
tower. The project fell apart in the last recession.
Meanwhile, the wrought-iron terminal grew greener and grimier.
The waiting room was subdivided into offices, and the stained-glass windows
were boarded over with plywood. Lately it’s been used to store mothballed
Department of Transportation files.
But beneath the dirt, those who know the building say, lies a Beaux-Arts
jewel. The city is doing some of the work, spending $36 million to fix the
building’s roof and refurbish its exterior. City officials hope that the
investment will attract a developer-someone like Mr. Emil-who will pay millions
to lease the 140,000-square-foot building. Whoever wins the lease will also be
responsible for an estimated $26 million worth of renovations inside. Because
the building is a New York City landmark, bidders are eligible for federal tax
credits for the restoration.
The key attraction is the 55,000-square-foot waiting room. “It’s
big enough to play a football game in there,” said Paul Goldstein, district
manager of Community Board 1.
“It’s an absolutely exquisite interior waiting room-one of the
most marvelous hidden spaces in New York City,” said Richard Pieper of Jan Hird
Pokorny Associates, the architectural firm the city has hired to restore the
Madelyn Wils, chairwoman of Community Board 1 and a board member
of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which is overseeing the efforts
to rejuvenate downtown, said city officials told her that they’ve attracted a
number of restaurateurs with plans similar to Mr. Emil’s.
City officials who are coordinating the bidding declined to speak
about the selection process. “We haven’t really made the decision yet,” said
Paul Januszewski, project manager for the E.D.C. “We’re just reviewing the
But several downtown sources said they’d heard that Mr. Emil was
among a handful of finalists. One person familiar with the bidding process said
that a short list had been forwarded to the office of Dan Doctoroff, the deputy
mayor for economic development and rebuilding. Mr. Doctoroff did not return
several phone calls.
The Department of Transportation will be moving 200 employees out
of the building within the next ten months, a department spokesman said.
Ms. Wils said she’d discussed the project with city officials in
November. “I think that they’re close to determining it,” she said.
Part of a Piece
The city envisions the terminal as just one piece of a
redeveloped waterfront running from Battery Park, past a renovated South Ferry
Terminal, to Frank Gehry’s proposed $678 million downtown Guggenheim Museum.
Ferries would run from the renovated Battery Maritime Building to a redeveloped
Governors Island, the E.D.C. says. N.Y. Waterway, a private ferry company, also
has expressed interest in running ferries to La Guardia Airport, Yankee Stadium
and other destinations out of the terminal.
The recession and the World Trade Center attack have thrown many
of these projects into doubt. Governors Island has been put on the back burner,
and the Guggenheim has been laying off workers. Some wonder, too, about the
wisdom of sinking an enormous amount of money into a restaurant, especially
downtown. Ms. Menin said that many places downtown are reporting a 30 percent
drop-off in diners.
But Mr. Emil said he thinks he can make money at the Battery
Maritime Building. Though he declined to elaborate on the specifics of his bid,
sources involved with it said that the main body of the second floor would be
used for receptions, conferences and banquets. A smaller restaurant and bar
would overlook the harbor and the ferries passing below.
Mr. Emil said he’d met with city officials in December to talk
about the bid, but that “there’s been no discussion of economics at all.”
So don’t call for reservations yet. Should he win, Mr. Emil said
it will take at least two years to refurbish the building. He hasn’t even come
up with a name. He knows what he won’t be calling it, though. He said he still
hopes to fulfill his pledge to reopen Windows on the World-but he wants the new
Windows incorporated into the redevelopment plans for the World Trade Center
site that developers and government officials are now devising.
“We’re very committed to Windows on the World in a redeveloped
lower Manhattan, and nothing else is likely to take that commitment away,” he