Without Peer: Greg Carney Talks SuperPier
Al Barbarino Dec. 10, 2013, 9 a.m.
In 1952, the February issue of Popular Mechanics boasted of a “SuperPier” at Pier57, an engineering marvel designed to be indestructible and built upon three giant concrete boxes instead of the wooden piles characteristic of surrounding piers. Six decades later, and after five grueling years of paperwork and approval processes, Young Woo & Associates intends to bring the long-underused but not forgotten pier back to super status in 2015. The $200 million plan calls for 270,000 square feet of retail, envisioned as a cultural and creative hub, a fusion of food, culture, idea incubation and generation, with an eclectic mix of storefronts with waterfront views, column-free space and 20-foot ceilings, and 430 shipping container “incuboxes,” housing everything from luxury and online retail brick-and-mortars to big-box concept shops.
One of three principals at the firm, Greg Carney, has led the approval process and dealings with the Hudson River Park Trust since Young Woo & Associates began hashing out its plan in 2008. A principal at the firm for six years, he oversaw the completion of the Sky Garage at 200 Eleventh Avenue, the firm’s commercial condo project at 139 Center Street in Chinatown and the acquisition and sale of the AIG Tower downtown. The SuperPier is arguably the most novel of them all, with a Riverfront Spa and Beach Club concept by André Balazs Properties, Brooklyn Boulders and Opening Ceremony already on board. Mr. Carney spoke with The Commercial Observer about the idea behind the SuperPier and Young Woo & Associates’ vision.
Why did you see potential in the pier, and what factors impacted your decision to proceed with the project?
It was a combination of a lot of things coming together: watching the retail world evolve and this changing model around shopping, the whole idea of more experience-based retail and this idea of not just creating a place of commerce but trying to combine cultural uses with the whole cultural scene and a social gathering place, and making it much more interactive. We were looking to form that in a unique physical space and came across the pier.
We’d looked at some other opportunities along the waterfront and chose not to pursue them for a variety of reasons, but this had the right location, and it happened to have the right structure. It’s unique, because it’s built on these floating caissons that get away from the ongoing problem they’re having in the river with some of these piers with the woodpile structures that don’t have a real long life and are very expensive to maintain.
And just the history of the pier and its location in the park: The Hudson River Park had already done a lot of the work to the north and to the south in redoing a lot of the waterfront, and yet this pier had sat idle for a few years, and we saw it as this great opportunity to connect to the west side of Manhattan and all the things going on in the fashion world in the Meatpacking and in the art world in West Chelsea. It was the intersection of all these different elements that we saw as the perfect opportunity to bring all that together and do it with some scale so it really could be a new destination and a new way of thinking about retail and food and fashion in one place.
Will the project help or hurt other retail in the area?
I think it will help in a big way. We want to be complimentary to a lot of the great things that are going on in the immediate neighborhood and the fact that the Whitney [Museum] is coming there, all the success of the High Line, the evolution of Chelsea Market, all the new retail that’s coming to the area. We want to compliment that and do it in a way that it’s a different kind of space and a different offering, both from a pricing standpoint and a concept standpoint. We want to be an alternative to some of the other storefront retail and food and fashion option but do it in a way that’s building on what the neighborhood already has going on.
How would the footbridge you’re seeking approval on, connecting to some of these other retail hubs, help?
We did take the initiative to design a very simple connection across the West Side Highway as part of our whole approval process, but we still think it makes a lot of sense as an urban planning model to try to connect a lot of what’s going on across the street and up to the High Line, Chelsea Market and the Whitney.
We recognize that, on the one hand, we aren’t the only user in that immediate neighborhood, but with all the good things going on, we want take advantage of all the connections that could be made. And the High Line is an obvious one if we can together come up with something that makes sense for the city and all the constituents. We’re huge fans of what they’re doing and what the Whitney is going to bring and all the other good things that are going on.
How did you decide on “incuboxes” to make up a 54,000-square-foot portion of the retail?
The whole idea was to try and take advantage of this incredible structure that the pier represented. We didn’t want to take away from the quality and character of the space because there was some level of restriction on what we could do historically, but more importantly [because] we wanted to work that into our concept. So we came up with this idea of introducing shipping containers into that space and provide a way to organize the interior of the project—establish a streetscape and a street scene—but do it in a way that the individual spaces were part of the bigger volume of the overall pier space. So those containers were meant to connect to the history of the pier and the waterfront but also provide a really neat architectural element in a way for retailers to come into smaller spaces.
We clustered different categories of uses in those containers, and the incubox idea was to play into the whole concept of the pier being a [center] for new ideas for incubation in either food or fashion or art. In all of those categories, we wanted to enable small businesses, existing brands and even entrepreneurs with an idea to come into a space where they could exchange and create new ideas in this interactive environment and form a business.
You have some unique anchor tenants in Brooklyn Boulders, Opening Ceremony and André Balazs. How did you decide on these three?
The basic idea was to try to add leaders in different categories, and they had to fit into the concept and buy into the notion of a more interactive and engaging model. For instance, we said we want a recreational anchor, but we want someone who really does have established ties to the community and has a record of connecting in interesting ways to what’s going on in the immediate neighborhood and doing things in a real authentic way, and [Brooklyn Boulders] fit the bill across the board. Obviously, we want some draw in terms of foot traffic, but we also want the right kind of draw to the other users.
Obviously, André Balazs has done a lot of interesting concepts in the hotel world but also in the [food and beverage] world and in the spa world, in particular in Miami Beach. We wanted to build on that—get some of his following and also establish another anchor in a significant amount of space in the pier.
We also wanted someone that was already recognized as a leader and an innovator and would attract a wide variety of brands, and Opening Ceremony fit that bill.
What other tenants or types of tenants will come on board?
We’re in the midst of finalizing a deal with a food anchor. We’ve always envisioned having one larger space that was programmed and curated by a food operator. That’s kind of the last piece of our core tenancy, and from there we want to fill out the rest of the space with smaller users. We do have a deal that’s in the works with a food media group, and we have a number of conversations going on with other fashion folks that follow on the heels of Opening Ceremony. So we’re using all those lead tenants to set the tone for the project and to attract other folks to fill out the larger spaces and ultimately the smaller container spaces.