Pier 57 Plans Promise Public Space, Food Hall, Plenty of Google | chelseanow.com

Pier 57 Plans Promise Public Space, Food Hall, Plenty of Google

Google is set to lease the lion’s share of space at Pier 57, just south of Chelsea Piers, as part of their new West Side tech corridor. | Photo by Tequila Minsky

BY WINNIE McCROY | Just a week after Chelsea Now reported on Google’s plan to purchase Chelsea Market, the tech giant is in the news again, taking on the space abandoned by celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain at the RXR Realty and YoungWoo & Associates-run Pier 57 complex. Now that Bourdain Market has dropped out, the food hall space will be scaled back from 140,000 square feet to about 40,000 square feet.

“The Bourdain plan was very ambitious, proposing one of the largest food halls in the world — over three times the size of Eataly,” said Seth Pinsky, EVP Fund Manager for RXR Realty. “Unfortunately, in talking to the Bourdain team and other operators, we repeatedly heard that a food hall of this scale was simply not financeable, with many plans evolving during discussions into ‘Vegas-style’ event spaces, which were not appropriate for this site.”

Google had already announced an agreement for a 15-year lease as the anchor tenant for the Pier 57 food hall complex, occupying 250,000 square feet of space. Now, they will add another 70,000 square feet of office space, as well as 50,000 square feet of true public space for cultural events and educational programs, including 24,000 square feet for studio rehearsal space for local performing arts organizations such as the Atlantic Theater Company. In addition to this community space dedicated to culture and education, Google will provide dedicated public space of about 5,000 square feet, for the community to sit and enjoy the view.

“In essence, it’s 70,000 square feet for office space and 50,000 square feet that is either 100 percent ‘true’ public space or public-facing space,” said Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT) President and CEO Madelyn Wils. “Before we had only 20,000 square feet of true public space, so there is a lot more now, because basically when Google wanted more space, we made a point of saying that we wanted to improve the quality of [it]. What was considered public space before was actually just retail space. So in essence, Google is taking some of that retail space.”

Once Pier 57 is open in 2019, it will feature 110,000 square feet of outdoor space, including a green roof of usable public space. Seen here, a rendering presented at a Feb. 2016 meeting of CB4. | File image courtesy HRPT

As Chelsea Now reported back in July of 2013, the original plan for the long, mint green building at W. 15th St. that was the former Marine & Aviation center had always been a multi-use complex with retail, food, cultural programming, and public space. When YoungWoo & Associates and RXR Realty won the RFP (Request for Proposal) back in 2009, they projected there would be 425,000 square feet of retail, in addition to more than 100,000 square feet of public space.

And Pinsky noted that their updated plan leaves in place the public amenities of the original plan, including 110,000 square feet of outdoor open space, but now also includes 70,000 square feet of additional pure office space that will be occupied by Google.

“This makes possible significantly more truly public, indoor open space; exciting cultural, educational, and community space; an updated program for the pier’s historic caissons that will ensure significantly more public access; new waterborne transportation serving the West Side community; and a right-sized food market that will still be among the largest in New York,” said Pinsky. “Last but not least, the revised plan will generate nearly $20 million in additional revenue for Hudson River Park, providing the Trust with additional resources with which to operate this one-of-a-kind public amenity.”

Wils said that the team at HRPT was pleased that the south side of Pier 57, which was previously slated for retail outlets with south-facing windows, will now be public seating where, she said, “You won’t have to buy anything. You can just come in, sit down, and read the paper.”

Google also confirmed that they are seeking HRPT’s approval to fund the construction of a landing for water-borne public transportation, such as a water taxi or trans-Hudson service. The landing will be fully funded by Google, which is in the exploratory stage, investigating options with different operators to select a certified operator. The Trust will assess their plan when it is presented, with details, and will go through the Significant Action process, including holding a public hearing for people to comment before any determination is made.

Beyond the fencing, work continues at Pier 57. | Photo by Tequila Minsky

The Waterfront, Parks & Environment (WPE) committee of Community Board 4 (CB4) seemed to take the news in stride. Said WPE Co-Chair Lowell Kern, “The current operating plan does more good for the community than the previous Bourdain plan. There are more open public spaces, as well as more community and educational elements in this latest plan, the cost for which is being underwritten by Google. When Pier 57 is complete, Chelsea will have gained another valuable public space, and the fact that it was paid for by Google will be irrelevant.”

“The Community Board obviously wants to see the details, but they were pretty positive about it,” said Wils. “I can’t possibly say that every single person feels the same way, but in general a lot of people are happier that it’s not going to be such an intensive retail space.”

Some, like Save Chelsea’s Dave Holowka — himself a member of CB4’s WPE committee — were less thrilled about the prospect of Google’s “multiple-block technology corridor” taking over this public space. He wondered whether HRPT was doing their jobs as a proponent of waterfront-related amenities.

“Google is known for their employee perks,” said Holowka, “and if they are allowed to build out their development rights directly about the High Line and Pier 57, they will be sending their employees to work directly above two public parks. Talk about perks!”

But Wils believes the new plan would actually mesh better with the Trust’s existing 3.1 acres of outdoor open space. “The whole footprint of Pier 57’s roof is a park,” she said, “and the whole perimeter of the pier is a public walkway. You can walk around the entire pier. So that’s already a considerable amount of public space.”

Runners and bicyclists negotiate the narrow pathway alongside the Pier 57 construction site. | Photo by Tequila Minsky

Wils also said she was pleased that Google would be footing the bill for the additional 24,000 square feet of classroom space, exhibition space, and theatre rehearsal space, noting that the tech company will be responsible for making sure it is fully fitted out, well-run, and nicely maintained. Overall, said Wils, the Pier 57 complex with Google as the largest tenant will be better for all facets of the operation.

“We are very interested in having a quality market there, and we think we’ll get a better operator than before,” said Wils. “Bourdain was a great idea, but it never jelled. We think this will get us a better quality market.”

CB4 Chair Burt Lazarin also felt that the updated plan would better serve the area and the HRPT waterfront parks.

“Pier 57 is an important pier for both the park, as a money-generator, and the community at large,” he said. “Any plan for this pier must support the operation of the park, but more importantly be both an asset and accessible to the community. Google’s financial backing of this project will not only provide desperately needed revenue for the park, but it will also create new assets for the community. With this commitment Google is showing us the kind of good neighbor they want to be in our community.”

RXR Realty and YoungWoo & Associates have affirmed that they are on schedule to finish construction and open the facility to the public by the end of 2019.

Construction is on schedule for Pier 57 to open by the end of 2019. | Photo by Tequila Minsky

The Pier that roof built: Pier 57, as seen last weekend. | Photo by Tequila Mihsky