Liu audit says Seaport firm owes $1.8 million in back rent

City Comptroller John Liu, flanked by members of his audit staff, at a July 25 press conference outside Pier 17.  Downtown Express photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer

City Comptroller John Liu, flanked by members of his audit staff, at a July 25 press conference outside Pier 17. Downtown Express photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer


 BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER  | [UPDATED 11:40 AM JULY 31, 2013 — ORIGINALLY POSTED JULY 25,, 2013] City Comptroller John Liu released an audit last week saying The Howard Hughes Corporation owes almost $1.8 million in back rent for leases at the South Street Seaport.

The report faulted the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the master leaseholder at the Seaport, for failing to ride herd on the Dallas-based developer and for giving it preferential treatment.

“How sad that we must report that the management of the Seaport by the Economic Development Corporation has badly served the Seaport itself, the city and our taxpayers,” Liu said at a July 25 press conference on the Seaport’s Pier 17. “Especially at a time when retail here is struggling to recover after Superstorm Sandy, it is discouraging to find that the company that the E.D.C. contracted to run this historic area, the Howard Hughes Corporation, has shortchanged the city on its rent.”

Liu said that the E.D.C. had not noticed the underpaid rent until his office pointed it out.

By the terms of its lease, Hughes is supposed to be paying $3.50 a square foot for its leasehold. Liu said that the Hughes Corporation had understated the amount of square footage it was leasing and that the E.D.C. had never performed its own survey of square footage “so it had no idea that Howard Hughes was shorting it.’

Liu went on to say that he found it even more distressing that in 2010, “E.D.C. went out of its way to help Howard Hughes when the company emerged from bankruptcy.”

E.D.C. erased part of Howard Hughes’ debt and modified the lease terms to lower future payments to the city.

Patrick Muncie, an E.D.C. spokesperson, said Liu used inaccurate square footage numbers and should not have signed off on the bankruptcy agreement three years ago if he had any problems with it.

Liu told Downtown Express Friday that his office typically relies on information provided by the city’ administration’s attorneys, but “that doesn’t mean we don’t then check a few years later to see what actually happened.”

He said the idea that there was a miscalculation is ridiculous.

“My auditors are pretty decent at math,” he said. “It’s not that difficult to determine how much space is rentable — a tape measure, some basic multiplication and you can find out how much space there is. But E.D.C…. never measured the space.”

At the press conference, Liu said “If this is the best and most qualified candidate that the E.D.C. could find to manage the world-famous South Street Seaport, then we might be in trouble.”

He was referring to the fact that Howard Hughes is already redeveloping parts of the Seaport with its eye on more of it.

“As part of this impending redevelopment, there are significant amounts of revenue that the city and taxpayers should realize from this very important city asset,” said Liu, “and yet, because of what’s happened these past few years, it shakes our confidence that the city will actually get what it deserves in what it realizes.”

Liu, a Democratic candidate for mayor, has recommended that E.D.C. obtain an independent survey to determine the leasable square footage under its management and regularly review Howard Hughes’ financial reports to ensure they are accurate.

The comptroller’s office has also recommended that E.D.C. put Howard Hughes on notice that it owes rent and interest and that the failure to pay what it owes within 15 days would constitute default under its lease.

“It is now up to the Economic Development Corporation and City Hall to get the money back for the taxpayers,” Liu said.

E.D.C.’s Muncie said the bankruptcy agreement precludes it from going after outstanding debt, but Matthew Sweeney, a Liu spokesperson, said “there is no reason why the E.D.C. cannot collect the $1.8 million that Howard Hughes Corporation owes to the city. The E.D.C. didn’t know it was being underpaid in 2010, and wasn’t aware that it was being shortchanged until Comptroller Liu’s audit pointed it out.”

The Howard Hughes Corporation responded by saying that it was “extremely disappointed with today’s announcement by Comptroller Liu in regard to this audit and reject their findings. We have acted in good faith and are confident there is no merit to their report. We look forward to a timely resolution.”

The audit takes place in the context of an impending deadline for Hughes to announce its plans for a “mixed-use project” in the Seaport. Based on a letter of intent, it would presumably entail construction of hotels, apartment buildings and additional retail.

Save Our Seaport, a coalition of Seaport stakeholders and individuals opposed to this prospect, is lobbying for a moratorium on land use approvals until the issues raised in the comptroller’s report have been resolved. S.O.S. is also proposing that governance of the Seaport should be in the hands of a local development corporation instead of E.D.C.

“We were anxiously awaiting this report and it hits all the high points that we’ve been talking about,” said Michael Kramer, a member of the S.O.S. steering committee. “It talks about how E.D.C. has been asleep at the wheel and not adequately monitoring The Howard Hughes Corporation… We need a new form of governance at the South Street Seaport.”

— With reporting by Josh Rogers

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13 Responses to Liu audit says Seaport firm owes $1.8 million in back rent

  1. Liu is only doing this for his Mayoral campaign. His whole time in office has been about campaigning. He only occasionally tends to his job

  2. Liu at it again! What a fluff of hot air. I for one cant wait for him to NOT be in City government after November.

  3. Liu is a total jerk. Howard Hughes Corp. is contributing much to the welfare of the city. Just another political stunt.

  4. While Weiner is a disgusting pervert, it should not be forgotten than Liu is a truly shady character who cannot be trusted. Luckily his poll numbers remain low at 7%. were he to be Mayor, we would only serve the needs of the Chinese community and would be in Beijing's back pocket.

  5. How can anyone be upset that the guy's auditors found out this company ws stiffing the city? Gues EDC and Howard Hughs Corp aren't happy they got called out and are pitching a fit in the comments here. lol

  6. Rouse, the Grandfater then GGP the Father and now the Grandson HHC.

    Runs in the Bloodline.

    Bout time the community woke up and smelled the coffee.

    A former Pier tenant. (when it was nice to be there)

    Gerry Nally

  7. Marshall Hill

    What??? Is this suppose to be some kind of "distraction" like that which is going on in Washington right now? Liu should go "sit next to The HHC/Rouse and AUDIT HIMSELF! By the way, John Denver you must be living in a parallel universe, because you know absolutely nothing about the corporations that run The South Street Seaport. (I was a former Pier 17 merchant there for almost 25 years!)

  8. The HHC will ruin the South Street Seaport, and John Liu would ruin NYC if he were ever to become Mayor.

  9. HHC will continue to ruin the S. Street Seaport. Since Sandy hit, they have forced all the smaller and more interesting stores out of business so that they can replace what is one of the most historical areas of NYC with fast foods, mediocre (and that's being generous) mall retail options. On top of that, they will triple the rents. In my opinion, they pretty much suck. I don't really care who calls them out, nor do I have an opinion on Liu… I'm just glad someone is standing up to them and exposing what they are. $1.8 million is nothing for them and isn't enough of a payment for ruining the local culture of our city and offering up mediocrity.

  10. Bravo John Liu, it's your acting on the behalf of the people of NYC and not the corporations, that is the reason that you have my vote for mayor of NYC!

  11. The Comptroller should call out the HHC and EDC. It does not matter if you like John Liu or not. That is the job of his office. And what about that comment " were he to be Mayor, we would only serve the needs of the Chinese community and would be in Beijing's back pocket." WOW! that comment shows intelligence, independent thought, objectivity, smarts, reasoning, etc. Not.
    Lucky for that person this column is anonymous!

    • Oh really- can you prove that Liu will serve the needs of New Yorkers beyond the Chinese community? This is where he has obtained most of his support. He is also very close to the Fujian American Association – the most powerful Chinese organization in the U.S., with close ties to the CCP.

      Almost everything that Liu has done in office has been about grandstanding in order to be Mayor. He has used all his time campaigning, when he should have been working on behalf of New Yorkers.

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