Skip to Content
CityRealty Logo

Carter's View

Water Street POPS Water Street POPS
We need more arcades, not fewer!

The city wants to permit the owners of 20 buildings along Water Street in Lower Manhattan to fill their 100,000 square feet of arcades—whose creation along with their 225,000 square feet of plazas gave them more than 2.5 million square feet of bonus development space—with retail.
Some of the arcades such as those at 77 Water Street and 127 John Street were among the very finest in the city, and then there are plazas such as Wall Street Plaza at 88 Pine Street that boosted the attractiveness of the area when created.
The intent of the proposal is to "help" real estate owners, whose properties have already received very substantial bonuses, as city planners now consider the arcades and plazas to be lacking because they are too deep or too narrow; have columns that are too thick or too close to one another; that they do not have enough light; that they are "dead-end," or that their ground floors are too far away from the sidewalk.
77 Water Street Plaza
In its description of the proposed "Water Street Upgrades Text Amendment," the New York City Department of Planning maintained:

"These issues, together, make the arcades unattractive for pedestrian use and do not contribute to improving pedestrian circulation along the street. Furthermore, by causing the building ground floors to be set back from the sidewalk, ground floor uses have limited visibility and fail to engage passersby, thereby affecting the vitality of these commercial spaces and causing many of the ground floors to be used for unengaging lobby uses instead."
This is an inexcusable giveaway to the Water Street owners and a major reversal of planning principles that evolved in the 1970s to make the city's streets livelier and more interesting. Plazas like the one in front of the Seagram Building at 375 Park Avenue provide important "open space" in congested areas for people-watching and art, and arcades like the ones on Rue de Rivoli in Paris are delightful sheltered pedestrian ways that encourage window-shopping and strolling protected from the elements, two of the great graces of urban living.
Seagram Building Plaza
In return for creating so much retail space, the owners may have to bring the reduced "open space" up to current city planning guidelines for seating, planting, drinking fountains and lighting, but the new retail spaces would be exempt from the "definition of floor area." This means that the owners would not have to demolish parts of the building to keep within the permissible zoning bulk. In other words, they could double-dip.
Furthermore, the city planners say that "useful amenities," such as bicycle racks, would be provided. The bulky blue CitiBike racks that have recently proliferated in the city and now occupy the front of the Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue and long stretches of Central Park sidewalk on Fifth Avenue do not make the city more beautiful.
The city planners argue that the new zoning "would facilitate more allowing free, non-ticketed events as-of-right," adding that "examples of events and programming include farmers' markets, shuffleboard, mini golf, beer gardens, food truck festivals, and music performances."
"As part of the arcade infill, buildings would also consider new flood-proofing strategies for their ground floors to ensure they are resilient against flooding and damage from storms," the city planners also note.
88 Pine Street
200 Water Street
77 Water Street
The proposal is being advanced by the Department of City Planning, the Alliance for Downtown New York, and the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

In a June 9, 2016 article in The New York Post, Steve Cuozzo wrote that "Downtown Manhattan faces a critical turning point: the City Council can vote to make the district's eastern slice as vibrant and appealing as the rest of the resurgent area. Or, it can condemn Water Street to a permanent blight of glooming, near-empty 'plazas' and arcades. The City Planning Commission, the Economic Development Corporation and the Downtown Alliance want to liberate the area from antiquated, widely discredited zoning rules. They've proposed a zoning change to allow landlords to replace dark and little-used arcade with rent-paying storefronts built out closer to the streets."


The City Council is expected to vote on the proposal June 21.

Fulton Street Gateway
Battery Gateway
In the commentary for the text amendment, the City Planning Commission wrote:

"Located south of the South Street Seaport and east of the Financial Center, Water Street once marked the eastern edge of Lower Manhattan and was lined with piers that made it a center of New York's maritime activity. The street was widened in the 1950s to relieve congestion caused by the opening of the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel (formerly the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel), and the Lower Manhattan Plan (1966) established Water Street as an important arterial street carrying north-sough vehicle and truck traffic....Many of the buildings that are located within the text amendment's boundaries were constructed between 1965 and 1987, and were generally facilitated by special permits and variances granted by the City Planning Commission and the Board of Standards and Appeals, and as-of-right floor area bonuses generated by arcades and plazas. These high density commercial buildings range in heights from 20 to 53 stories, mostly without setback, and contain floor area ratios between 15 and 21.6."
In its testimony on the proposal March 30, 2016 at the City Planning Commission, the Municipal Art Society maintained that most of the plazas and arcades in the Water Street corridor "are considered uninviting, lifeless, impediments to investment, and, in some cases, unsafe," adding that "thus, we are in favor of reimaging the POPS to ensure they are welcoming places for residents, workers and visitors that offer space for respite and contemplating while also activating the streetscape."
C'mon. Let's accentuate the positive and give the landlords an opportunity to enhance their profits considerably.
Candy Store at 77 Water
32 Old Slip Plaza
77 Water Street
The Municipal Art Society has said that the "Water Street corridor represents only 3 percent of the total number of POPS in the city in need of activation or reimagining." Adding that "Rather than insisting these changes won't set a precedent, we urge DCP and EDC to do just that - use this opportunity to develop a full set of economic and regulatory parameters that can be employed citywide to provide all property owners with the framework, tools, and incentives to improve their underperforming POPS while maintaining the original equation of exchange."
Various recent planning reports about the area have pretty, colorful illustrations that highlight, in white, people and street furniture as if all that was needed to reimagine the corridor was a Magic Marker.
Common sense.
Many of the POPS are just fine. Indeed, the one at 77 Water Street is the finest in the city with its elevated candy store, pebble-strewn river, and various sculptures. It was the greatest William Kaufman Organization public extravaganza that even surpassed its quite daring 127 John Street's large neon-lit corrugated entrance tunnel and boogie-woogie arrangement of colored awnings on Fulton Street. Rose Associates now owns 127 John street, now called 200 Water Street, and its neon-lit tunnel is gone and Rose supports the text amendment.
77 Water Street
Just add some Scott Burton-style seating, cobblestones, a couple of cafes, and some sculptures, and stir!
Hands off 77 Water Street and 88 Pine street and restore 200 Water Street to its wild glory.
There is a disturbing pre-occupation with retail space that is gobbling up a lot of buildings' spaces with double-height glass shopping venues that have nothing whatsoever to do with their building's architecture. It's one thing for preservationists to turn the other way when considering ground-floor retail spaces, but not when it begins to consume and ruin a building's architectural ambiance.
The key to revitalizing Water Street is doing something really wonderful at the South Street Seaport, like restoring its pier-like shopping shed and banning its glassy suburban mall.
We need more grand ships. Why not ground a super-tanker, or an ocean-liner, or a clipper ship in the middle of Water Street? Have Disney turn it into an amusement park or hot-dog venue.

Additional Info About the Building

Architecture Critic Carter Horsley Since 1997, Carter B. Horsley has been the editorial director of CityRealty. He began his journalistic career at The New York Times in 1961 where he spent 26 years as a reporter specializing in real estate & architectural news. In 1987, he became the architecture critic and real estate editor of The New York Post.