A First Look at Pier 17

Public outdoor spaces at the redeveloped Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport are expected to open by late May, with a full opening of the commercial project to follow in the summer. Photo: Michael Garofalo
The waterfront space, featuring restaurants, ESPN studios and rooftop performance venue, will soon open its doors to the public
by michael garofalo

Food, drink, outdoor space and breathtaking views will be the key offerings at the new multipurpose commercial space set to open next month at Pier 17 — the latest addition to the Lower Manhattan waterfront and a major component in Howard Hughes Corp.’s overhaul of the South Street Seaport district.

The developer hasn’t announced an official opening date, but public outdoor spaces on the roof and the building’s periphery are expected to open by late May, with a full opening to follow sometime this summer. Howard Hughes Corp. hosted a public tour of the space April 19 as contractors completed final touches on the new four-story building, which juts into the East River at Fulton Street.

Retractable glass doors on the sides of the building, which will be kept open as weather permits, reveal an airy two-story space on the ground floor. Within are several modular commercial spaces, clad in corrugated metal and reminiscent of shipping containers, that will hold restaurant tenants, including concepts from chefs Andrew Carmellini and David Chang. The first restaurant, a casual seafood-centric offshoot of chef John-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen, is scheduled to open in August.

The open areas between the restaurants will feature seating intended to evoke a hotel lobby ambience rather than the feel of a shopping mall, Howard Hughes executive Saul Scherl said. “We’re planning on making it lounge-y,” he said.

A 1.5-acre rooftop space with public seating offers sweeping views of the downtown skyline, East River bridges and Brooklyn waterfront. Future plans for the roof include a 50-seat restaurant and an ice skating rink in the winter months.

The roof will double as a 3,400-person venue for concerts and other events, prompting concerns from some neighbors about excessive noise. The stage will face south towards Governors’ Island, which Howard Hughes officials said would project sound away from nearby buildings; plans originally called for the stage to face west toward Lower Manhattan.

The second floor houses ESPN’s live broadcast studios, where the network began filming a new flagship morning show in early April. The developer is still seeking a tenant for commercial space on the third floor.

“The building was built one foot above the new FEMA requirements” instituted after Superstorm Sandy, Scherl said, and the structure’s power lines can be sealed off from water during a flood event. The old Pier 17 building did not flood during Sandy.

Howard Hughes Corp., which leases Piera 17 from the city through an agreement with the New York City Economic Development Corp., has invested roughly $781 million in the pier and the surrounding Seaport District in an effort to transform the neighborhood from a tourist haven to an upscale commercial destination.

The Tin Building, which stands between Pier 17 and the FDR Drive, is in the process of being renovated and will eventually hold a food hall overseen by Vongerichten.

The fate of the neighboring site that holds the New Market Building is as yet unclear. Howard Hughes Corp. previously planned to build a residential tower at the site, but abandoned the proposal in 2015 in the face of local opposition. NYCEDC announced in January that the building, which once housed the Fulton Fish Market and is outside of the South Street Seaport Historic District, would be demolished.

In response, Community Board 1 passed a resolution admonishing the EDC for moving to demolish the vacant building while providing no details on the timeline and “nothing about future plans for this historic and sensitive site.”

“[W]e regrettably find that the EDC [...] has continued its previous practice of not sharing important information with the CB or the community nor consulting with the community in advance of making important decisions despite the CB’s repeated requests to do so,” the resolution stated, continuing, “we do not want to see another tower proposal for the New Market site.”

Michael Garofalo: reporter@strausnews.com