Seaport Developer: Toss 'Festival Marketplace' Overboard

Following the reveal in today’s Times of the long-awaited plans to redo Pier 17 and the South Street Seaport, we chatted with Michael McNaughton, a vice president with developers General Growth Properties, about the company’s plans for the site.

The planned redo of the site comes more than two decades after developer James Rouse, who pioneered the “festival marketplace” that helped revitalize places such as downtown Boston and Baltimore’s waterfront, installed the seaport-themed retail hub on the pier.

Mr. McNaughton was blunt in criticizing the marketplace as it stands today.

“You have a three-level mall basically encompassing the entire area of the pier, which, once inside, you honestly have no clue what city you might even be in the United States,” he said. “The relevance of this project, given its current configuration, has essentially lost all New Yorkers. I mean, most people say, ‘I love the seaport, but I haven’t been since 1989.’”

The new project, the most notable feature of which is a 42-story hotel and residential tower, would tear down the existing retail and replace it with more open space, new retail, and a boutique hotel.

The planned complex, designed by SHoP, needs approvals from a slew of agencies, including the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, the City Planning Commission, the City Council, and, according to Mr. McNaughton, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. The latter would be needed as General Growth intends to put new pilings, in the place of old wooden ones, that would rest under its tower, though DEC has generally been reticent to issue any approvals for new waterfront projects that are not of a water-dependent use.

City Councilman Alan Gerson, who represents the district, pledged that changes will be needed in the proposal, as there is too much emphasis on hotels and not enough on opening the waterfront to the community.

“I think the plan as presented is not acceptable; [it] robs the city of what makes the South Street Seaport a special place,” he said. “It takes away the low-rise area—it essentially integrates the seaport area more closely into the rest of high-rise downtown.”

Seaport Developer: Toss 'Festival Marketplace' Overboard