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Real Estate: From Mitchell Park to the Barclays Center

09/06/2015 8:00 AM |
Designed by SHoP Architects in the late 1990s, Greenport's Mitchell Park features a harborwalk and marina, carousel pavilion and camera obscura. (Credit: Courtesy photo)

Designed by SHoP Architects in the late 1990s, Greenport’s Mitchell Park features a harborwalk and marina, carousel pavilion and camera obscura. (Credit: Courtesy photo)

Bill and Coren Sharples have amassed quite the résumé since 1996, the year the part-time Orient Point residents launched their Manhattan firm, SHoP Architects. 

In 2011, for instance, SHoP spearheaded the design of Google’s new offices in Mountain View, Calif. One year later, the award-winning company — which has a total of six principals, including Mr. Sharples’ twin brother, Christopher — finished construction on Brooklyn’s transformative Barclays Center. Now, SHoP is collaborating with another firm to build a 423,000-square-foot San Francisco complex for Uber, the mobile rideshare company.

Despite these high-profile jobs — and countless others, including an “innovation hub” in Botswana — one project remains particularly dear to the couple: SHoP’s late-1990s design for Greenport’s Mitchell Park.

“Greenport is still very close to our hearts,” Ms. Sharples, 49, said last week. “That project was as important to us then as any of our projects are today.”

Bill and Coren Sharples were visiting Nantucket Island in 1996 when they read in an architectural magazine that Greenport Village was hosting a professionally juried international competition for a design to transform the 3.4-acre site that is now Mitchell Park.

At the time, the village, which was fresh off the heels of a police department scandal that made international headlines, was “profoundly depressed,” recalled former Greenport mayor David Kapell.

So Mr. Kapell and the Village Board turned their attention to the site of the former Mitchell’s Restaurant on Front Street, which was then owned by a private developer who had failed, “in the wake of the recession of the late 1980s and ’90s,” Mr. Kapell said, to do anything with it.

“It was sitting there like a rotting cancer in the middle of downtown,” he recalled.

Greenport Village purchased the property for just under a million dollars in 1996. The application from SHoP Architects was one of 500 received from 26 countries, Mr. Kapell recalled.

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Photo Caption: SHoP Architects’ six principals (from left): Coren Sharples, Gregg Pasquarelli, Christopher Sharples, Kimberly Holden, Vishaan Chakrabarti and Bill Sharples. (Courtesy photo)

“The idea of the competition was that it was a way to open the process up,” he said. “Greenport had become very insular in its thinking.

“This was a way to announce to the world — and it may sound presumptuous but it’s actually true — that we were ready for change,” he said.

SHoP Architects decided to enter the competition because they thought the property was a “great site” and they were impressed by the contest’s juried panel.

“It was an incredible opportunity for us as young designers,” Ms. Sharples said. “Working with the community and all of the regulatory agencies involved gave us the confidence and credibility to take on any challenge. We had no employees when we launched the company. We did it all, from drafting and model building to bookkeeping.”

One year before the park’s formal dedication in 2001, SHoP Architects won the Emerging Voices Award from the Architectural League of New York.

“I think the vision Mayor Kapell had was not to just make a beautiful park for the residents,” Ms. Sharples said. “It was also conceived as an economic driver, something that would bring business back to Front Street.

“When we thought about the park and the place, we thought about how to create that traffic flow — to not just get people into the park but how to bring people to Front Street,” she continued.

Following the 2005 Gulf Coast devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the firm collaborated with a DeLisle, Miss., resident to develop a 10,000-square-foot center that now houses a restaurant, market, bookstore and nonprofit space.

Myriad projects — and more awards (see sidebar) — followed, but it was, according to the real estate blog Curbed, SHoP’s 2011 “commission for the Barclays Center that shifted them, in many observing eyes, from ‘up-and-coming’ to ‘well, hello.’ ”

“You really get the best of all worlds,” MaryAnne Gilmartin, CEO and president of Forest City Ratner Companies, which developed that project, told Curb. “You’re talking about a highly collaborative process, not just with the clients and the architects, but with the architects themselves.”

This give-and-take approach with clients, and even communities, is something the couple said they picked up in Greenport.

“We had visionary clients for both projects,” Ms. Sharples said. “Both projects were very community-focused and had difficult site conditions. Lessons we learned at Greenport definitely helped prepare us for projects like the East River Waterfront Park and Barclays Arena.”

And while SHoP, which now employs 180 people, today works on a much larger, more complex scale, their design process hasn’t changed much since 1996.

Since the completion of Mitchell Park, SHoP Architects has gone on to design numerous other projects, including Pier 15 in New York City. (Credit: Courtesy photo)

Since the completion of Mitchell Park, SHoP Architects has gone on to design numerous other projects, including Pier 15 in New York City. (Credit: Courtesy photo)

“We’re involved in more than five million square feet of construction in New York City right now,” Mr. Sharples said, “and a lot of that is tied into the same ideas of [Mitchell Park].”

When asked what accounts for SHoP’s success, Ms. Sharples laughed politely, as though taken aback by the question.

“Definitely hard work, but I think it’s also that we believe in listening,” she said. “I think we’re good collaborators.

“We really believe that clients and communities are part of the design process,” she continued. “It’s not about our vision. It’s really about bringing a vision to life through our design.”

Almost 20 years after the firm was hired by Greenport Village, Mr. Kapell said he’s more impressed than surprised by SHoP’s success. He also considers the hamlet lucky to have their imprint.

“I feel very fortunate that we were able to employ them at that early stage in their career and get what we got from them in Greenport,” Mr. Kapell said. “What a bonanza. It was a great thing for both of us.”

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