Seaport firm’s plan for boats at the new Pier 17

Downtown Express photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer New York Water Taxi docked at Pier 17 in the South Street Seaport. Under the maritime usage plan for the pier proposed by The Howard Hughes Corp., which is about to tear down the existing shopping mall on the pier and replace it with a new one, there would be room for New York Water Taxi to dock at the newly configured pier, and for one other boat.

Downtown Express photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer
New York Water Taxi docked at Pier 17 in the South Street Seaport. Under the maritime usage plan for the pier proposed by The Howard Hughes Corp., which is about to tear down the existing shopping mall on the pier and replace it with a new one, there would be room for New York Water Taxi to dock at the newly configured pier, and for one other boat.

BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER  | The Howard Hughes Corp., has submitted a plan for the maritime usage of Pier 17 to City Councilmember Margaret Chin and to City Council’s Land Use Division.

On March 8, 2012, when Hughes first showed its plans for a new shopping mall on Pier 17 to Community Board 1’s Seaport Committee, the renderings depicted a flat-roofed, glass-enclosed structure with no boats in sight.

“Amanda Burden of the Department of City Planning required H.H.C. to amend its plan to show maritime-friendly elements,” said Michael Kramer, a member of the steering committee of Save Our Seaport, a neighborhood group trying to preserve the historic South Street Seaport. “There would have been no maritime activity at all at Pier 17 under the original Howard Hughes Corp. ULURP [Uniform Land Use Review Procedure] plan.”

On March 20, 2013, Howard Hughes, which has a long-term lease at the Seaport, went before City Council with its plan, the last stage in the ULURP process. By then, ships had been included.

“The pier will be designed to accommodate maritime uses,” said Christopher Curry, senior executive vice president of Hughes, “including the installation of appropriate infrastructure such as cleats and bollards and gates to permit safe access to maritime programs on the south and east sides of the pier. Howard Hughes will continue to allow the [South Street Seaport] Museum to use the water beside Pier 16 for the docking of its vessels.”

City Council approved the ULURP application, but required that Hughes submit a docking plan for the pier by June 30, 2013. It arrived on schedule.

The new plan has a notch on the east side of the pier, which the plan shows could contain one gangway for a boat. Vessels would not be permitted to enter the notch.

On the south side of the pier, the plan shows a floating dock for New York Water Taxi, like the one now there.

Tom Berton, whose company, Manhattan By Sail, owns the 158-foot-long Clipper City, now berthed at Pier 17, likes the plan. “It looks like [Howard Hughes] listened to our earlier comments and provided an interesting solution that could work for Clipper City,” he said.

He said that he had some questions about the fendering system, which protects boats from slamming against the pier when they dock, but was satisfied with the plan.

Berton hopes to bring Clipper City back to Pier 17 after the new shopping mall has been constructed, in about two years.

Save Our Seaport was less satisfied.

“The only apparent positive items are the increased space allowed for line handlers, the inclusion of some additional mooring devices, and a limited number of access gates,” said Capt. Robert Rustchak, speaking on behalf of the group.

Rustchak has 28 years of experience as a Tall Ship and commercial mariner, including eight operating from the South Street Seaport.

“The amount of usable dock space is still less than one third of what is available now,” he said. “There is still limited flexibility in mooring options. Were there to be a need to evacuate Lower Manhattan again, the new berthing options are restrictive. It seems that no adjustments have been made to the pedestrian pathway around the pier since the original plan.”

Rustchak said that having a gangway in the pier’s notch was “a novel concept,” but that an additional gangway from a vessel through the notch may be legally required for emergency use.

He also noted that were there to be a fire on the pier, as there was on July 14, 2012, this notch could create “confusion and danger for people on the pier.”

Rustchak wondered whether there would any seating near the fencing. “It was previously suggested that seating close to the fence puts the public in danger from the line handling involved in berthing vessels,” he said.

SHoP Architects, which designed the new Pier 17 shopping mall for Howard Hughes, did not comment on the revised plan.

It is now being considered by City Council’s Land Use Division, which will submit its comments to The Howard Hughes Corp. and to the City Planning Commission, which must approve the proposal.

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