Google keeps gobbling up space in Chelsea; Takes more of Pier 57

BY WINNIE McCROY | Just a week after it was reported that Google plans to purchase the Chelsea Market building, the tech giant is in the news again, taking on the space abandoned by chef Anthony Bourdain at the RXR Realty and YoungWoo & Associates-run Pier 57 complex on the Chelsea waterfront.

Now that Bourdain Market has dropped out, the food hall space will be scaled back from 140,000 square feet to roughly 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, executive vice president / 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.”

A rendering of the design for Pier 57 from a presentation in February 2016. Once Pier 57 is redeveloped and opens in 2019, it will feature 110,000 square feet of outdoor space, including a green roof. Image courtesy Hudson River Park Trust

Google had already announced an agreement for a 15-year lease as the anchor tenant for the Pier 57 redevelopment project, occupying 250,000 square feet of space. Now, it will add another 70,000 square feet of office space. In addition, Google will now take over the programming at the W. 15th St. pier of 50,000 square feet of 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 Theatre Company. In addition to this community space dedicated to culture and education, Google will provide a dedicated “Winter Garden-like” public space of an additional 5,000 square feet where members of the public can sit and enjoy the river 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 Madelyn Wils, president and C.E.O. of the Hudson River Park Trust. “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.”

The original plan for the long, mint-green pier-shed building had always been to repurpose it as a multiuse complex with retail, food, cultural programming and public space. When YoungWoo & Associates and RXR Realty won the requests for proposals, or R.F.P., for it 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,” he said, “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. 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 the Trust were pleased that the south side of Pier 57, which was previously slated for retail outlets with south-facing windows, will now be public seating.

“You won’t have to buy anything: You can just come in, sit down and read the paper,” she said of this space.

Google also confirmed that it is seeking the Trust’s approval to fund construction of a landing for waterborne public transportation, such as water taxis or trans-Hudson ferries. The landing would 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 that plan when it is presented, and will hold a “significant action”-mandated public hearing for people to comment before any determination is made.

Wils said that the Community Board 4’s Waterfront, Parks and Environment Committee seemed to take the news in stride.

“The current operating plan does more good for the community than the previous Bourdain plan,” said Lowell Kern, the committee’s co-chairperson. “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,” Wils said. “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 — who is a member of the C.B. 4 Waterfront, Parks and Environment Committee — were less thrilled about the prospect of what he called Google’s “multiple-block technology corridor” taking over this public space. He wondered whether the Trust was doing its job to promote waterfront-related amenities.

“Google is known for their employee perks,” Holowka said, “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!”

Pier 57, on the Chelsea waterfront at W. 15th St., in background, above, will now have an even larger Google presence. While Google’s increased office space will not be open to the public — unlike a 140,000-square-foot food hall plan that fell through that would have been — the pier still will feature other areas that will be publicly accessible. Photo by Tequila Minsky

But Wils believes that the new Google plan would actually mesh better with the pier’s planned 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.”

The Trust president was pleased that Google would be footing the bill for the additional 24,000 square feet of classroom space, exhibition space and theater rehearsal space, saying that the tech company would be responsible for making sure that space is fully built out, well-run and nicely maintained. Over all, Wils said, 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,” she said, confidently. “Bourdain was a great idea, but it never jelled. We think this will get us a better-quality market.”

C.B. 4 Chairperson Burt Lazarin also felt that the updated plan would better serve the area and the whole 4.5-mile-long Hudson River Park, in general.

“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 redeveloped Pier 57 to the public by the end of 2019.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *