Volume 22, Number 41 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | February 19 - 25, 2010
Rendering of the approved new look for Pier A by H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, top. A look at the pier now and from inside the ground floor, right.
With landmarks approval, Pier A now in search of tenants
By Julie Shapiro
The redevelopment of Pier A cleared one hurdle this week when the project won unanimous approval from city Landmarks Preservation Commission.
L.P.C.’s vote will allow the Battery Park City Authority to finish stabilizing and restoring the historic pier building so it can eventually open to the public.
“This is a wonderful project,” said Frederick Bland, a Landmarks commissioner, before Tuesday’s vote. “It’s been stalled for so long.”
Hoping to inject new energy into the long-delayed restoration of the 124-year-old building jutting out of Manhattan’s southwestern tip, the city leased Pier A to the B.P.C. Authority two years ago and gave the authority $30 million to get Pier A ready for a commercial tenant.
The authority solicited plans for the pier last fall and many groups attended information sessions, including restaurants, catering halls, arts nonprofits and educational institutions. Proposals were due back to the authority at the end of the day on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, the authority said it had received seven proposals from “very reputable teams.” Authority staff had raised questions in the past about whether development at the pier could be profitable, since it is tucked in a corner of Battery Park that gets little traffic in the winter.
When the authority took over Pier A, the building had been vacant for about 20 years. Surf splashed up through cracks in the floor and rain poured in through poorly sealed windows. The pier’s underwater supports were crumbling, and the entire three-story building leaned several degrees to the south.
“It truly is a miracle that the building is still standing,” said Jack Martin, an architect with H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture.
H3 Hardy is now working for the B.P.C. Authority to complete restorations that Wings Point, a previous developer, started in the 1990s and abandoned partway through. Most of that work had already been approved by the L.P.C., but H3 made a few changes that the commissioners needed to review on Tuesday.
The only controversial change was the color scheme for the building. The commissioners approved of H3’s plan to keep the roof a pale green, similar to copper’s patina, but they disliked the plan to paint the building dark beige with light cream trim. For most of Pier A’s history, the shades were reversed: the building had a lighter base with darker trim. Bland and other commissioners said the lighter trim gave the building an inappropriate colonial look, when it should appear more Victorian.
Hugh Hardy, founder of H3, replied that he could switch the trim and base colors of the building. The architects returned to the L.P.C. several hours later with new renderings showing a lighter base and a darker trim, and based on that, the L.P.C. approved the project.
Several members of Community Board 1’s Landmarks Committee had also objected to the color scheme when H3 architects presented the project last week. Bruce Ehrmann, co-chairperson of the committee, said the colors reminded him of a “historic theme park.” The committee gave an advisory vote in favor of the project, though Ehrmann and another board member voted against it.
With landmarks approval in hand, the Battery Park City Authority hopes to finish restoring the pier by spring 2011, when it will be ready to turn over to a tenant. If the authority’s public-private development plan succeeds, Pier A could open to the public for the first time in its history.
Originally conceived as an outpost for the New York Harbor Police and the Dept. of Docks, Pier A opened in 1886 as a mixture of offices and spaces for boats to tie up and unload. The “A” in Pier A stands for “administrative,” and as time passed the building slowly converted entirely to office space for government entities that managed the waterfront, said Jason Van Nest, an architect with H3.
Each generation brought additions and alterations to the pier, some more historically sensitive than others. When the Fire Dept. took over in 1964, they stripped the building of all its metal cladding and used the interior as a pipe and woodworking shop, destroying much of the original fabric, Van Nest said. The F.D.N.Y. also used the pier as a fireboat station.
One of the most visible historic features of Pier A is the clock tower on the far end, built as the nation and the city’s first World War I memorial in 1919. Van Nest said the clock’s face is in good shape, with the hands still attached, but he isn’t sure whether the clock can be made to work again.
While the city’s $30 million investment in Pier A will do a lot to restore the building, Van Nest said the best way to ensure that the pier never again falls into disrepair is to find long-term tenants.
“If we’re going to protect this building, it needs to be occupied,” he said.
Nadezhda Williams, with the Historic Districts Council, also said she was concerned about the future of the pier, even once it is restored.
“With its setting on the harbor, Pier A is both a very prominent landmark and unfortunately one very exposed to the forces of nature,” Williams said in testimony to the L.P.C. on Tuesday. “We urge the powers-that-be to make every effort to ensure Pier A’s stability, so that it does not fall apart or have to be dismantled…. The only thing more disheartening than seeing an unprotected historic building destroyed is watching a designated landmark crumble.”