Seaport Museum: plan blocks views so block the plan

BY ALINE REYNOLDS |  After receiving much praise from locals, developer Howard Hughes Corporation’s plan for the overhaul of Pier 17 is now getting a wave of negative feedback about the view obstructions the plan would cause at the Seaport.

In its application to the city, Howard Hughes has requested a waiver of requirements concerning waterfront view corridors in order to be able to build a permanent performance stage on Fulton Plaza and attach several new signs to the pier’s future mall.

But officials representing the South Street Seaport Museum oppose the plan, asserting that the stage will block crucial views of the harbor and will interfere with the museum’s planned educational programming.

Susan Henshaw Jones, director of the Museum of the City of New York, which runs the maritime museum, is calling on the city to issue a restrictive declaration that would mandate the continuation of existing view regulations and therefore prohibit the stage.

In its Uniform Land Use Review Procedure application, Howard Hughes argues that a mandate is unnecessary because all development rules would be spelled out in the written lease agreement between the developer and the city. The developer wrote that “Views of the water will be provided from several alternate locations on the zoning lot, and views of the water will be significantly enhanced overall by the proposed project.”

But Henshaw Jones said, “We believe the view corridor should be completely unimpeded going all the way to the waterfront.”

Additionally, the proposed performance stage for Fulton Plaza would infringe on the South Street Seaport Museum’s right to the Pier 16 apron, which the museum plans to use for educational workshops and other museum-related events in the coming months, according to Henshaw Jones. Trapeze training, maritime classes and other such programming could bring more money to the struggling museum, she noted.

“This is the line between [Piers] 17 and 16,” she told Community Board 1 members during a tour of the area Oct. 23. “This [proposal] is such a clash of uses. You can’t teach kids there when it’s going to be obliterated with noise.”

C.B. 1 member Una Perkins, a resident of the nearby Southbridge Towers apartment complex, said the noise already emanating from the waterfront often prevents her and her neighbors from getting a full night’s sleep. “It’s like a big circus — it’s so commercial, it’s not indicative of the Seaport,” she said.

Perkins told the museum director, “I’m with you about this — this is a disgrace.”

Henshaw Jones is also fighting for rights to the water between the two piers, which she said is desperately needed to berth the Ambrose and some of the museum’s other historic ships.

“Everybody says that we have control over Pier 16 and the north side of Pier 16, but what we’ve been told is that Howard Hughes has the water space, so in effect we can’t berth the Ambrose there,” she said. “If it’s not clarified in our favor, they presumably have the ability to say, ‘Move the Ambrose.’”

Alex Howe, a spokesperson for Howard Hughes, affirmed that, while the city technically owns the water between Piers 16 and 17, “per our lease, we have control of most of that water.”

C.B. 1 chairperson Catherine McVay Hughes envisioned a shifting of the performance stage’s location to the Link Building in order to protect the views from the upland. She would also like Fulton Plaza to be available for community-specific events. “One of the things C.B. 1 doesn’t have are open places for assemblies or groups to meet,” she said. “Having that area open would be very helpful.”

C.B. 1’s Landmarks Committee is objecting to another aspect of Howard Hughes’s Pier 17 proposal — its signage. The Howard Hughes plan calls for a nine-foot-high illuminated rooftop sign that reads “Seaport” and up to 18 other non-illuminated blade signs attached to both sides of the mall that would bear the names of the indoor shops.

The committee has written seven resolutions in response to the plan, two of which ask the city Landmarks Preservation Commission to reject the developer’s request for a modification of existing regulations that would allow for the proposed signage.

According to Howard Hughes, “these signs will be critical to the identification of the building and its tenants and will be appropriate to the scale and design of the building.”

But C.B. 1 asserts that the blade signs would detract from the future building’s overall design and contravene L.P.C. signage guidelines.

“To have it in that location is totally inappropriate for the South Street Seaport Historic District, in our opinion,” said committee chairperson Roger Byrom. “The whole scale of the Seaport is low and small, and while there are precedents on [certain parts of] the waterfront for industrial signs, there was never anything like that in the Seaport.”

Byrom continued, “We understand tenants rightfully need signage, but in many historic districts, you can limit the signage to simple lettering. That would be more appropriate than having lots of different logos swinging around the place.”

The full board has until Tues., Nov. 13 to review the application, after which the redevelopment plan will be evaluated by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, the City Planning Commission and City Council. If approved, construction on the pier is slated to begin next summer.

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