Seaport tower’s power: Surprising support

Image courtesy of the Howard Hughes Corp. Schematic of the project areas, including the New Market Building, pictured, and the Tin Building.

Image courtesy of the Howard Hughes Corp.
Schematic of the project areas, including the New Market Building, pictured, and the Tin Building.

BY JOSH ROGERS  |  It’ll be another few months before the public gets to see how much the Howard Hughes Corp. has adjusted its proposed 600-foot tower at the South Street Seaport, but in the meanwhile, the tower has a lot more support than many observers thought.

Since the firm unveiled its proposal last fall, the tower to be built just outside the South Street Seaport Historic District has garnered near universal opposition at public meetings, but on Tuesday, the Seaport Working Group, which includes leading opponents of the project, released a survey showing 26 percent of the comments it received opposed Guideline 6, which calls for alternatives to the tower, and 3 percent offered neutral opinions. 

Although 71 percent support for the guideline is high, it was dwarfed by support for the other principles, most of which received at least 95 percent.

“That [26] percent number bothered me last night,” said John Fratta, chairperson of Community Board 1’s Seaport Committee and a member of the working group. “Because it just seemed too high for me.”

The group received 1,946 “eligible comments” on the guidelines either from its online survey or written comments at the public unveiling of the principles June 2, although far fewer commented on any specific principle.

The nine guidelines are carefully-worded and general in nature, allowing opponents and supporters of the Hughes proposal to disagree on whether the firm has already met many of them.

“I think if you look at all the guidelines, I would say the project that we’re envisioning is consistent with those guidelines,” Chris Curry, senior executive vice president of development for Hughes, told Downtown Express last month.

The guidelines also include calls for more open space, historic preservation, and storm resiliency.

Curry, who got a private preview of the findings Monday night along with the rest of the Seaport Working Group, also attended Community Board 1’s Seaport Committee Tuesday, when the survey results were released.

He declined to comment on the results. He confirmed at the meeting that Hughes expects to have its application for Landmarks approval early in September and a new version of the mixed-use tower proposal later in the fall.

That timetable runs counter to the desires of Community Board 1 and many Seaport Working Group members who want to see the entire proposal together.

“It’s still my hope we see everything as a master plan, and we don’t see things in segments and bits and pieces,” said Michael Kramer, a member of Board 1 and the working group. 

The tower site, on the New Market Building, would likely include residential apartments and possibly a hotel.  It would not need landmarks approval, although officials with the city’s Economic Development Corp., which oversees the city-owned property at the Seaport, have indicated they want to see neighborhood consensus on a proposal before it offered support.

The landmark application will be reviewed by C.B. 1, which will offer an advisory opinion before it goes for approval to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The commission is likely to be most concerned about the plan to move the Tin Building and add a rooftop addition. The building, which is decaying, must be raised to meet new storm guidelines, requiring it to be moved because of its proximity to the elevated F.D.R. Drive. 

Later in the fall, Hughes plans to submit its application for a Uniform Land Use Procedure, better known as ULURP, in order to build on the tower site. The City Council has the power to stop a ULURP. 

By all accounts, Councilmember Margaret Chin and Borough President Gale Brewer, who has an advisory say under ULURP, have been two of the most active members of the working group, which also includes leaders of C.B. 1, neighborhood small business owners and residents, business groups like the Downtown Alliance, as well as the Hughes firm.

Like Brewer, Community Board 1 will have a chance to review the proposal before it goes to the Council.

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10 Responses to Seaport tower’s power: Surprising support

  1. This is the silent majority speaking! Most of the people I know understand that someone HAS to pay for the $100MM+ cost of repairing the pier and recreating the Tin Building. We don't want to the city to pay for it when there are such urgent school needs that the city needs to be addressing in our growing community. Clearly, HHC needs to be given a reason to invest the money necessary to rebuild the pier and the Tin Building. Most people clearly understand that. The question is how big is the building to be. The reality is that the site is NOT in the historic district and downtown is full of skyscrapers and I'd prefer a tall slender building to a short fat one which HHC may have the right to build as of right. We need to get as many concessions as possible from HHC, but we understand that they must get something in return. It just makes sense.

    • You must not live in the community. That area may not be as you say "in the land marked area" and there needs to be concessions, but the Brooklyn Bridge should continue to dominate the entire area without HHC distractions.

      • I most definitely live in the area and and my comments stand as is. Please present YOUR plan as to how this pier gets fixed without HHC getting something in return that justifies an investment of $100MM+ to repair the pier and rebuild the Tin Building. The city has already said they are NOT doing it and nor should they. that money should be spent on building desperately needed schools.

        • The pier would only need expensive repairs to hold up a 50 story building. You are mistakenly putting the cart before the horse. If the New Market building (the authentic 1930;s Fulton Fish Market Building) stays there and is recycled to a new use, there will not need to be a huge amount of expensive pile repairs.

          This is about density, and scale. A tower higher than the Brooklyn Bridge does not belong on the edge of the South St. Seaport Historic District, and a tower higher than the Brooklyn Bridge should not ruin the view for foreign tourists nor ruin the view from the bridge of the iconic Tall ships..
          This , the port of New York, was the original port of the USA back in 1830s when the Erie Canal was built, and fortunes were made with the transportation of people and goods to the West.

  2. Rosey Observer

    Why does NYCEDC or the City not put out an RFP for the Tin Building site? How does the city assume a $100million necessary capital investment when the design or the use for the pier hasn’t been defined. Luckily we can thank Carl Weisbrod for bringing back the days of the board of estimates and allowing developers land grabs with out a public process or public review.

  3. The answer is to transfer whatever development rights there might be in the area where the New Market Building now stands to a site away from the Brooklyn Bridge and the shoreline. Folks come to NYC to see wonders like the Brooklyn Bridge, and that vista is a key money maker for the South Street Seaport District. Visitors do not come downtown seeking a stack of condos and hotel rooms that will block views of the Bridge, the East River and Brooklyn. Transfer the development nearby onshore and build there: that will create the same construction jobs, and the same income stream that HHC says it needs. It will also preserve the essential character of the Seaport: low rise, with the East River present, visible and accessible.

  4. Downtowner, that is much easier said than done. Exactly where do these development rights get transferred to???? Much of the area IS a historic district and is off limits. There are precious few other sites available outside of that area and HHC doesn't own so you would need a third party to come in that needs to add FAR to their site but who is going to do that? You can pretty much build very tall towers just about anywhere else in FiDi so what would they need to buy rights from the Seaport? And no one is going to pay $100MM+ for those rights. NOBODY and that is how much it is estimated to cost to rebuild the pier and reconstruct the Tin Building. I say build the tower but get concessions from HHC to ensure the survival of the Seaport Museum, get community space, get someway to dedicate money for a new school in the area, etc. This is what the area most desperately needs.

  5. Umm, they are NOT mutually exclusive. And it is not an issue of whether we NEED a new skyscraper. It is who is going to pay to repair the piers and how will that money be raised. As of now the ONLY plan is this tower. If you've got a better one please share it and also tell us how your plan will give us supermarkets and schools.

    • That is a red herring, that old saw about paying to repair the piers, nonsense. Howard Hughes just wants to make a huge profit; they have no interest in repairing piers.

      And their idea of putting fake grass over the authentic cobble stones and blasting rock music all over the neighborhood is tacky and off putting, and ruining the quality of life for the neighbors, The local restaurants need the business. Send the food trucks away.

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