MARCH 20, 2012
Reported by Christopher Turner, ULI New York Young Leaders Group
YLG New York concluded the second part of its Reclaiming the Waterfront series with a site visit and Q&A at Battery Park City’s Pier A. The evening’s moderator, Stephanie Jennings, Assistant Vice President for Economic Development at Alliance for Downtown New York, gave a brief introduction to the project before leading the sold-out audience off to be fitted for site safety gear.
As we entered the historic Pier A structure, located at the southern tip of Manhattan, the sun was setting behind the famous World War I memorial clock tower at the far end of the pier. Out in the harbor we could make out the Statue of Liberty catching the day’s last rays of sun and to the north were the skyscrapers of downtown Manhattan, including the twinkling, semi-clad 1 WTC. These vistas will soon – as in mid-2013 – be available not just to lucky ULI members but also to all inhabitants of and visitors to Battery Park. Pier A is undergoing extensive renovations that will see the landmarked building reborn as a 38,000 square foot restaurant, oyster bar, beer hall and public open space.
The Pier was built from 1884 to 1886 to serve the Department of Docks and Harbor Police. It saw numerous additions between 1900 and 1919 and was later used for many years by The New York City Fire Department as the main station for its Marine Division. The mobile workshop gave the visiting group of development enthusiasts a chance to take a closer look at this very prominent site that has been left vacant and boarded-up for approximately 10 years. The Pier’s potential has been apparent for some time. Several million tourists visit neighboring Battery Park each year access the ferry dock that connects Manhattan to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. However, turning this piece of maritime history into NYC’s newest oldest icon has required a great deal of time, effort and money.
Gwen Dawson, Senior Vice President of Asset Management, Battery Park City Authority (BPCA), explained the history of the site and how it came to be under the ownership of BPCA. In 1992, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved a restoration project but that was never built. So, in 2008, BCPA was granted a ground lease with instructions to deliver a scheme that would offer the highest and best use for the site. In 2009, BCPA commenced repair work to the pier and began renovations to the core and shell of the structure. This included work both above and below the water level at cost of approximately $36 million. Proposals for redevelopment were requested at the same time. The successful developer, Dermot Company, a well-know player in New York, was selected in 2010. Following negotiations, a 25-year lease was granted to them by BPCA in 2011.
Drew Spitler, Director of Development, Dermot Company, was on hand to lead a tour around the inside of Pier A. Interior renovations have commenced and the site was clearly in the early stages of the fit out. Although negotiating our way around the three story construction site was a challenge, it enabled us to see firsthand some of the key retained features, including: floor-to-ceiling glazing which wraps around the building at ground floor level, the clock tower’s stunning spiral staircase and the floor-to-ceiling, teak-paneled Commodore Room on the second floor. The latter was allegedly the setting for a scene in The Godfather: Part II.
The cost of the interior fit out is estimated to be $18 million, which when combined with the core and shell work comes to a total project cost of $54 million. The question that was posed on the night was, “Will this become one of Manhattan’s most expensive restaurants?”
During the Q&A session, the panel went into more detail about some of the financing arrangements. At present Dermot has an all equity involvement, but this is expected to changed once the redevelopment work is completed. Dermot is also seeking to attract EB-5 financing from international investors for the project.
Once the tour concluded, attendees headed to The Growler Bar to carry on the discussion about this fantastic site and network with those in attendance.