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East Cove Development

Courtesy of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners
Courtesy of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners

In early 1980, New York City authorities invited proposals for a self-contained, self-sustaining development on a 30-acre site along a derelict stretch of the East River, between East 16th and East 24th streets. The project was to benefit the city economically and serve as a catalyst for additional development, but how that would be accomplished was left to the contenders. Pei’s East Cove proposal was one of four submittals in the high-stakes public-private venture. While other schemes called for business/retail/restaurant/recreation/marina/hotel and residential uses to be built on platforms over the river, Pei’s design was primarily residential. It alone respected the river’s natural curvature, cinching in at the northern and southern ends of the site with paired 70-story co-op towers (the tallest residential buildings in the city). Distantly recalling the Helix apartments Pei envisioned further up the river in 1948, the slender towers were carefully positioned to visually and physically minimize impact on surrounding areas. Stretched in between the towers was a 10-acre greensward and tree-lined waterfront promenade that made use of topographical differences in the adjacent FDR highway to ensure public access.

Opponents criticized Pei’s scheme as an exclusive residential enclave for the wealthy, but public opinion changed with the realization that East Cove alone would provide significant public parkland in a densely settled part of the city with a dearth of green space. Ultimately, the decision came down to Mayor Ed Koch, who, in the highly politicized struggle among some of the biggest power brokers of the day, opted for a more varied mixed-use proposal. Forty years later, the site remains largely undeveloped.

Existing conditions / Courtesy of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners