Volume 18, Number 38 | Feb. 3 - Feb. 9, 2006

City eyes Battery landmark for gourmet market on the water

By Ronda Kaysen

Foodies with a penchant for the perfect buffalo mozzarella and extra virgin olive oil might soon find their own version of Mecca at the edge of Lower Manhattan.

The mostly forsaken Battery Maritime Building is near the end of a $60 million façade restoration and the city hopes to transform New York’s only Beaux Arts ferry building into a fine food marketplace that will rival the likes of Pike Place Market in Seattle and the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco.

‘There’s no lack of people in the city interested in food and wine,” Kate Ascher, executive vice president of infrastructure for the city’s Economic Development Corporation, said at a Community Board 1 meeting on Monday.

Next month the E.D.C., which steered the five-year renovation, will issue a Request for Proposals for companies interested in transforming the 140,000 sq. ft. structure into a “temple to food,” said Ascher. The 32,000 sq. ft. Grand Hall with sweeping 30-ft. high ceilings and large, cast iron columns would emerge as an indoor marketplace selling fine foods, wines and produce. The third and fourth floors of the four-story structure could be dedicated to a restaurant or a culinary institution — the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York is looking for a satellite facility in the city, said Ascher.

“I love the idea of keeping that building in the public realm because it is a fabulous building,” C.B. 1 assistant district manager Judy Duffy said in a telephone interview. Duffy toured the building with E.D.C. before they began the renovation. “I love what they’re thinking, but the city is going to have to kick in some bucks to make it happen.”

The city has already kicked in about $60 million to renovate the façade, restoring and replicating the historic windows, doors and light fixtures and rehabilitating the piles. The city also restored the original colors to the 1908 landmark building, reviving the exterior of the once derelict structure. “There are few great buildings on the waterfront and this is one of the greats,” said Ascher. Ferries to Governors Island leave from the building in the summer.

A revived Maritime building will not go the way of the nearby South Street Seaport Marketplace, a mall heavily geared toward the tourist market boasting national chains and roll away booths selling cheap jewelry and New York license plate gag gifts. “I really don’t see this as another Seaport,” Ascher said, adding that the city has “learned lessons” from the failings of that market. A Maritime building “has to be run with an iron fist so it has a real feel.”

But local residents are not so sure. Despite its alluring waterfront location, the Maritime building is largely isolated from the rest of the city. Set on the waterfront’s edge, and adjacent only to the Whitehall Ferry Terminal, it is cut off from pedestrian access by the mouth of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Although near Battery Park City, a large residential neighborhood, it is still a haul from any residential enclave.

“I see a problem,” said board member Joe Lerner. “The residential population isn’t at a critical mass right now.” Sheila Rossi, another board member, suggested that without shuttle bus service, residents would not trek to an far flung market.

The city has long-term plans for the East River waterfront that include easing access to the Maritime building by moving the tunnel entrance 350 feet away from the building and creating a 3/4-acre plaza in front. The design will be funded with $7 million from the East River waterfront project, but no funding for the construction is in place.

A Maritime building marketplace could serve as a destination in a revitalized waterfront neighborhood, once the South Ferry subway renovation is complete, the East River waterfront finishes its $150 million makeover and General Growth, the company that controls the Seaport Marketplace and several Fish Market buildings in the area moves forward with its plans for the area. But if the Maritime building opens long before anything else, and the area is still largely cut off from development and public access, the shops that open there could flounder.

“Like everything else it’s location, location, location,” said Duffy. “But along with location, there’s a thing called timing. The market possibly could fail before it has a chance to get started.”

E.D.C. is toying with the idea of building a temporary bridge over the F.D.R. to ease access until the area is redesigned. At the moment, “there’s nobody who naturally goes” to the Maritime building said Ascher. “But if it really is a destination—and unique—people can get there.”



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