‘Not So Bad’ is the New Black.

In a fit of journalistic coming of age, amNY broke real news this week. Well, it wasn’t that newsworthy — probably just a trumped up press released fired in the opening salvo of Community Board hearings intended to garner a variance, if the follow-on Curbed note is accurate.

The upshot is that the Rouse Company, purveyors of high quality themed destinations such as Faneuil Hall (Boston) and Harborplace (Baltimore) finally gave up the ghost and sold itself to General Growth Properties, a name that should inspire the confidence that only a mall developer founded in Iowa can. And these new corn-fed developers — gasp! — find the economics of Lids and The Bodies Exhibit to be unsustainable.

And their answer? Wait for a new clever turn of a phrase: a luxury housing tower! You can’t fault these mid-westerners for being slow on the uptake; they just got here and they already figured out the scam of overpaying for an asset, then immediately running to whatever governmental agencies that is most amenable to pressure, contributions or other soft forms of influence, pleading poverty and requesting the right to pillage the surrounding community’s quality of life for short-term profit.

The fun thing about this story is that though it’s not exactly the playbook the Rouse Company employed in building the South Street Seaport, it’s damn close. And look how well that went. The fun part will be watching the various lackeys from places like the ESDC rolling over like they are getting their bellies scratched while these farmers are actually pissing on their face.

But I’m not here to complain again about how shockingly ignorant local and regional planning is in New York; we just have to sit tight for a couple more years, and the shimmering evidence of that will be visible from most of Long Island. I’m here to complain more locally about what any regular reader of this page might find shocking: I don’t think this should be allowed because I actually like Pier 17.

When I say I like it, I don’t necessarily mean the exceeding poor execution of the retail destination concept. People are forever proving that malls don’t work in Manhattan. This is because everyone hears the statistic that the Shops at the WTC was the most successful retail space in the world. This was true, but the confluence that enabled this — astoundingly high foot traffic, and the completely unique of opportunity of placing what was essentially a suburban shopping model diretly in the path of regional commuters (their target market) — cannot be easily reproduced.

Rouse, which pioneered the vaguely historical, vaguely upscale, vaguely vague historic-y shopping/eating concept, managed to make it really work only once, even though they got a number of locations to provide them with sundry tax breaks and development dollars. In the end, lots of retailers and cities got hosed, and time eventually caught up with Rouse.

Looking around at the various ‘districts’ that work in New York, the only commonality they share is that, excepting Dumbo, there are several competing commercial interests. So going from one big confused shopping center developer to another is not going to produce any groundbreaking insight. Indeed, their one big idea is to tear down the one thing that sort of works.

Again, forget the mall part. The building part — a big, open shed structure with great views in every direction, lots of exterior space, and a reasonably compact and innocuous footprint. Easy to find, with the name right there on the side. The presence of ungainly, corporate-scaled food establishments that scream Bennigan’s and decidedly middle-market retail is a problem of programming, not form.

When you look at the various proposals floated for Pier 40, it makes you wonder, why wouldn’t that work just as well at Pier 17? Performance Arts complex, abutting some high end residential (in the perfect loft luxury scale), all of it a five minute commute from the target market. Haven’t these people heard of St. Ann’s Warehouse? Hell, you could make it a big nightclub. Then the besotted patrons would fall right off the peir and into the river and we wouldn’t have to worry about them driving home drunk.

The one redeeming quality of Rouse was they did entertainment architecture a hair better than everyone else. That’s not saying much, but when Exhibits A & B, are, say, ‘Miss Brooklyn’ or the new hotel Carlos Zapata is offering on the Bowery, the sturdy faux historicism of Pier 17 starts to look pretty damn appealing.

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