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By TERESE LOEB KREUZER |
With long, dark nights and harsh winds, January has never been an easy month for the 72 businesses on Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport, but this January has been grimmer than usual.
After Superstorm Sandy blew through on Oct. 29, 2012, The Howard Hughes Corp., which has a long-term lease on the pier, shut it down to inspect it for damage. Howard Hughes reopened Pier 17 on Dec. 6, though some merchants never reopened.
Sal Himani, whose family owns six restaurants on Pier 17, said it then took Howard Hughes two weeks to turn on external lighting on the pier. Even with a smattering of light, few customers made their way past the boarded-up stores of the South Street Seaport’s Fulton St. corridor and through the forbidding darkness to shop or dine on Pier 17.
Now The Howard Hughes Corp. is finishing what Sandy started. It is requiring all tenants to vacate their stores by April 30. Howard Hughes has a contractual agreement with New York City’s Economic Development Corp. (E.D.C.), owner of the pier, stipulating that construction of a new mall on Pier 17 must begin by July 1.
The tenants have been pleading with Howard Hughes for more time, but so far, their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
“Every tenant in the mall, including myself, is losing money every single day until April 15th. That’s when the weather gets warmer and our business picks up,” Himani said. “Every winter, it’s tough, but in summer the crowds come, and you make it back.”
The tenants ideally would like to remain on the pier until the end of September so they could recoup their losses. But even a stay of eviction until the end of June would be helpful, Himani said.
“Everyone lost everything they had,” he said. “Everyone is in such a state of depression. Their hearts are broken.”
In order for Howard Hughes to proceed with tearing down the existing structure on Pier 17 and replacing it with a glass-enclosed mall, it still has two hurdles to clear. Some elements of the design must still be approved by the City Planning Commission, which will vote on them on Feb. 4 and then the plan must be approved by the City Council.
Himani and some of the other tenants hope that City Planning or City Council can or will intervene on their behalf. But Michael Levine, director of planning and land use for Community Board 1, said that placing any hope in City Planning is misguided.
“The issue of when the tenants are being asked to leave is not subject to the ULURP [Uniform Land Use Review Procedure] process,” he said. “It’s strictly a matter of the lease between E.D.C. and The Howard Hughes Corporation. It’s the E.D.C. that’s requiring that the property be prepared for construction by June 30. Howard Hughes is responding to the E.D.C., not to the Planning Commission’s requirements to obtain the zoning changes they need to rebuild the pier.”
He said that neither Howard Hughes nor the E.D.C. had made a move to change the due date. “Either party could have initiated the decision,” Levine said. “Neither party is willing to.”
Nevertheless, Community Board 1 passed a resolution Jan. 22, reiterating a previous request that “the Howard Hughes Corporation delay reconstruction of Pier 17 until after the summer 2013 and extend the deadline for the Clipper City [a sightseeing ship that moors at Pier 17] and other Pier 17 businesses from June 30, 2013 to September 30, 2013 to permit operation through the important summer season.”
City Councilmember Margaret Chin has also offered her support. She and members of her staff have met with some of the Pier 17 tenants.On Jan. 23, she met with representatives of Howard Hughes to discuss the issue.
“The Councilmember is advocating for the businesses to be allowed to operate over the summer,” said Chin’s spokesperson, Kelly Magee. “She is also talking to [New York City] Deputy Mayor [Robert K.] Steel and will soon sit down with the E.D.C.”
“It’s not just about us as tenants of the Seaport,” said Himani. “It’s this whole area of Lower Manhattan from Water St. to Front St. to Fulton St. – everybody’s counting on all this tourist traffic coming here in the summer. We’ve been devastated by Hurricane Sandy. The whole area has. And how is this area going to recover unless we’re here to do business in the summer time?”
Tom Berton, owner of Clipper City, said he would have to lay off 40 employees if Howard Hughes proceeds with its plan of closing the pier down on April 30. Berton said that around 1,000 people are employed on the pier.
Some of the Himani family’s leases on Pier 17 extend well beyond the April 30 eviction date, but Sal Himani did not want to comment on any legal action they may take.
A Howard Hughes spokesperson, Alex Howe, said the firm had no comment on the April 30 eviction or requests for extensions made by Councilmember Chin and C.B. 1.