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BY SYDNEY PEREIRA
After years of construction and changing plans, the South Street Seaport’s Pier 17 is getting ready for its christening.
It’s set for a “soft opening” of the rooftop this month, according to Saul Scherl, New York regional president for it’s developer, the Howard Hughes Corporation, who opened the nearly finished building for a public tour on April 19.
Scherl led two public tours of the space, revealing the three-story glass walls, which are designed to open up in the summertime. The seating area extends along the edges of the pier-level deck space, making up around 90,000 square feet of public space, including Seaport Square, the Riverdeck, and the adjacent walkways. Inside the building there will be restaurants, offices and shops — and perhaps even a virtual reality hub, according to Scherl.
Three restaurants are slated to open, including David Chang’s Momofuku, plus a seafood restaurant and a rooftop restaurant and bar that HHC will run. Around 70 ESPN employees will also work in the building, producing two television shows and two radio shows. They relocated to the building in early April. The third floor will be another office space.
But it’s the massive rooftop concert venue, expected to span about 40,000 square feet of space with a nearly 6,000-person capacity (3,400 standing and 2,400 seats) that figures most prominently in HHC’s vision — and locals’ fears — of Pier 17.
Besides concerts, Scherl said the space will host art installations, fashion shows, sports events, movie screenings, and private events. But when no events are scheduled, the whole roof will be open to the public, and the 10,000 square feet of space open at all times along the edges of the venue.
The available public space has appeared to change over the past several years, as Downtown Express reported back in December. The transformation from a moderate-use rooftop to an huge venue for concerts, restaurants, and event space — with the attendant noise and crowd-control issues — was a cause of concerns voiced at public meetings last December and in February.
“It’s morphed over the years into something that’s very different,” said Paul Goldstein, the chair of the parks committee at Community Board 1.
Scherl has repeatedly reiterated the corporation’s commitment to working with the community to ensure the newly built pier is a resource for nearby residents rather than a nuisance.
“We are committed to providing year-round public open space on a regular basis and throughout the Pier that will be a valuable amenity to the community,” Scherl said in an email. “Detailed information will be provided to the community as the programming develops.”
Questions remain for Goldstein, however, who said many of the unknowns seem near impossible to answer until the building’s operations are in full swing — particularly regarding noise and security.
Previous concerts at Seaport have shaken the windows of nearby buildings and caused surges in foot-traffic and security issues that were not properly prepared for, residents complained at the December meeting.
At the February follow-up meeting, Scherl addressed some of those issues alongside HHC’s general manager of the Seaport District and various rooftop, security and sound consultants.
Live events would begin around 7:00–7:30 pm, with doors opening 90 minutes prior, according to the presentation. All guests will undergo security screening and ticket scanning on the north side before heading up to the rooftop, while other visitors not going to the concert will use the building’s south-side entrance. All rooftop concerts will end by 10 pm, according to Scherl.
HHC reps assured the CB1 parks committee that there will be assistance from the NYPD, third-party security contractors, and response teams with protocols for issues ranging from natural disasters to active shooters. Drills will be ongoing in May and will help determine when a formal opening will be scheduled, Scherl said at the public tour.
As for sound, there will be a real-time sound-level monitoring system to continuously regulate the volume, he said, with a staff member at concerts who will be able to manually operate the system as well. Scherl said HHC would inform CB1 of major events four weeks prior, and send another follow up email 48 hours ahead of the event.
Another concern raised at the tour was whether event space would be provided to community groups and non-profit organizations free of charge for public use — even smaller ones with some 200 or 300 people. Scherl later told Downtown Express by email that a specific amount of time hasn’t been allotted, but HHC hopes to continue working with the community.
“Specifically, we will make the Pier 17 roof and the Seaport Square areas available to community-based organizations, including the PTAs of neighborhood schools, local senior and youth centers, and other nonprofit groups,” Scherl said in the email. “These events will be available free of charge at least four times each year. Of course, there will be many events throughout the year that we believe will appeal to members of our community.”
Scherl said shortly after the tour that the first year will no doubt be a test, but he feels confident.
Goldstein said it remains to be seen how well the sound system controls noise problems and how often the full rooftop space will be open to the community.
“The truth is that, yes, we’re glad that they’re taking these steps, but I think this is going to be one of those issues where we don’t know for sure until we start having these concerts,” Goldstein said. “We need to see how it works in reality.”
An early test comes this week, but it will have to be graded on a curve.
The Red Bull Music Festival kicks off its sixth year of live performances and club nights at the unfinished space within Pier 17 on May 3. Since it is an indoor concert, it was not subject to HHC’s promise of advance notice — and CB1 received relatively short notice. And it will also run much later than the 10 pm curfew HHC promised for outdoor events.
CB1 chairman Anthony Notaro said the board is more concerned about rooftop concerts due to the outdoor noise and security issues with a much larger crowd. The 1.5-acre rooftop has capacity for thousands of people, while Pier 17’s indoor space is much smaller.
“That’s why that’s a little different,” Notaro said. “It’s less than half the size of that [outdoor] crowd.”
Once the indoor space is rented out for restaurants and other activities, indoor concerts won’t be an issue in the future, Notaro predicted.
“At that point, then this wouldn’t even be an issue,” he said.
Notaro said that HHC has been responsive and flexible in the run-up to the opening, and that he thinks the developer genuinely wants Pier 17 to be a good neighbor.
“They’re very attune to any issues,” he said.