Thursday, June 5, 2014, by Jessica Dailey
After 11 weeks of meetings, the Seaport Working Group task force finally unveiled its guidelines and recommendations for the Howard Hughes Corporation’s latest redevelopment plans for the South Street Seaport. Last November, the developer and Seaport overlord—who is currently demolishing Pier 17 to build a new Pier 17—revealed plans for a 50-story hotel/condo tower, throwing the community into a tizzy. Because the tower would replace the New Market Building, once home to the historic Fulton Fish Market (and block views of the Brooklyn Bridge), neighbors and preservationists immediately opposed it and launched a plan to stop it. After three months of fielding a lot of angry feedback, Howard Hughes agreed to form the Working Group to seek organized community input, and now here we are. So what does the Seaport want and how does Howard Hughes feel about it?
Obviously, many Seaporters do not want a 50-story tower; DNAinfo notes that they’d rather see a shorter building. They also want Howard Hughes to save the beleaguered South Street Seaport Museum and create new public green space along the waterfront. Downtown Express talked with a Howard Hughes rep about the plans, and Chris Curry, the company’s senior executive vice president of development, said that “the project that we’re envisioning is consistent with those guidelines.” Howard Hughes’ plan does include a marina, improvements to the East River Esplanade, and restoring the Tin Building. But Curry also said he “might have an issue” with the guideline that recommends a shorter tower. Shocker.
None of the guidelines are binding for Howard Hughes, but the developer will consider them and return to the community with a revised plan in the coming weeks. What the plan will hold, and whether or not the New Market building will be saved, remains to be seen. Preservationist have tried and failed to get the building, which sits just outside the historic district, landmarked for years, and Howard Hughes has repeatedly said that its beyond repair. Additionally, getting rid of it will help open up access to the water.
Gregg Pasquarelli, a partner at SHoP Architects, the firm that designed the proposed tower, told Downtown Express that they’ve been working on revising the plans, but he maintains that the tower “is the only way to get enough revenue to get all of the goodies they want”—i.e. it will make the most money and be able to fund the most projects.
The slender tower actually has a smaller floor area ratio than what current zoning allows, but it well exceeds the 350-foot height limit. But Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said that “a squat, as-of-right building clearly isn’t what these guidelines are calling for.” Something like that would block way more bridge views.
For now, everyone just has to wait and see. The developer will likely file an official ULURP application in the fall, and the final decision will be made by City Planning and City Council. It’s unclear how the De Blasio administration feels about the development, but if we learned anything from Domino, we imagine there will be some serious affordable housing demands.