A disaster to some, a sign of revitalization to others — no mater what New Yorkers think of the redevelopment plans, the controversial makeover of Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport has officially begun.
"The new Pier 17 will inject the Seaport with new life and fresh energy," said one supporter, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, at a groundbreaking ceremony in Lower Manhattan Thursday.
The event marked the beginning of the pier's $200 million transformation by the Howard Hughes Corporation, which will knock down the iconic, monolithic marketplace and replace it with a contemporary, 300-square-foot glass complex.
"The redeveloped Seaport will create an unrivaled destination that will become the most vibrant in Lower Manhattan," the company's CEO, David Weinreb, said.
But not everyone is quite as pleased with what's to come.
Several community members have protested the plans since their inception last year, saying they will only contribute to the commercialization of the historic area.
Opposition only intensified in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, as many Pier 17 businesses struggling to rebound faced eviction before the old mall was shuttered for construction. (Just one lone tenant, Simply Seafood, remains, locked in a legal battle with the company.)
"It has been a terrible thing to see what should be the revitalization of a historic neighborhood be sullied by natural disaster and corporate greed," said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, who has opposed the plans from the beginning.
Bankoff believes the current mall — which he said represents the historic waterfront neighborhood — could have be renovated instead.
The new design will include a half-acre rooftop and amphitheater with room for 4,000 people.
The company estimated construction will generate $260 million in economic output and create some 1,000 jobs. As part of the company's deal with the city, Howard Hughes will be responsible for storm upgrades to make the pier more resilient.
But closing the pier during that time, opponents say, will mean less foot traffic to other businesses in the neighborhood already crippled by Sandy.
"To close off the waterfront until this thing opens — I don't see how that is going to be an economic boon to the neighborhood," Bankoff said.
Though officials said the plans would eventually bring more visitors to the Seaport, Bankoff worries the city, which approved the plans in March, isn't thinking about short-term consequences.
Indeed, during the groundbreaking, the mayor spoke of the Seaport's long-term future.
"I'm happy to say that the best days are still to come for the Seaport and that the future really does start right here, today," he said.
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