Hughes Corp. responds to Seaport tower criticisms

A rendering of the proposed building and the  Seaport esplanade. Image courtesy of SHoP Architects

A rendering of the proposed building and the Seaport esplanade. Image courtesy of SHoP Architects

BY JOSH ROGERS and DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | Mayor Bill de Blasio said last week he had no “philosophical” objections to a tower adjacent to a historic district, so perhaps it was not so surprising that Howard Hughes Corp. revealed that its long-awaited revisions to the firm’s Seaport development plan still includes a tower, and now meets another administration goal: affordable housing.

The tower was originally 650 feet and it has been reduced to 494. The Seaport Working Group, made of local politicians and community leaders, had been waiting since June, for the firm’s revisions after it released its guidelines and principles, calling for an alternative to the tower.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilmember Margaret Chin, two of the group’s leaders, both blasted the new plan in prepared statements released Wednesday night, minutes after Hughes presented the plan at a private meeting of the group.

“It’s clear that the Howard Hughes Corporation has not fully considered all of the guidelines put forth by the Seaport Working Group,” Chin said. “I can’t support the proposed tower in its current form, and I can’t support the development proposal overall in its current form.”

At a press conference the next day where a model of the site was revealed, David Weinreb, C.E.O. of Howard Hughes Corp., was asked to address Chin’s criticism.

“We’re very hopeful that as our proposal gets out into the community … We believe that they’re going to welcome our proposal and that those voices will be heard by the political people like Margaret Chin and others,” said Weinreb. “We’re hopeful that as the support grows for the project that she’ll reconsider her position.”

The plan revealed several community benefits that includes $171 million dollars to rebuild decaying infrastructure, such as the piers, the moving and restoring the Tin Building and the expansion of the East River Esplanade. The tower will house a public middle school and there will be a marina, enhanced waterfront access, as well as financial support for the Seaport Museum that will be upwards of $10 million.

It includes affordable housing along with the tower, which would be built where the New Market Building is currently located, just north of Pier 17. There would be around 70 apartments at below market rate, and 150 at market rate.

About 30 percent of the units would be affordable, and they would be built near Schermerhorn Row, something which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Weinreb said that Howard Hughes has addressed the Seaport Working Group’s guidelines. 

“We addressed every single one of the important priorities that they laid out for us in that group,” said Weinreb. “In some cases, we’re able to accomplish a 100 percent of what they wanted and in some cases we were able to partially give them what they wanted. But in all cases we addressed every concern.”

A rendering of the tower. Image courtesy of SHoP Architects

A rendering of the tower. Image courtesy of SHoP Architects

The height of the tower has been the point of contention and Gregg Pasquarelli, principal architect of the project and a partner with SHoP Architects, said that a shorter, wider building would have a bigger impact on the street than the slender building that is being proposed. The base of the proposed tower is much wider at its base and then gets narrower at its top.

“When we thought about the new building, we said what’s the best way to be a good neighbor,” said Pasquarelli. “The first thing that we wanted to do was not have the wide end facing toward the district, but to turn it so that the narrow end was facing towards the district. We started to think how to sculpt and shape the building so that light plays off of it and that it has a sort of thinning effect.”


Schematic of the project areas, including the current tower site, the New Market Building, and the Tin Building. mage courtesy of the Howard Hughes Corp. Image courtesy of the Howard Hughes Corp.

Schematic of the project areas, including the tower and middle school building site, the New Market Building, and the Tin Building. Image courtesy of the Howard Hughes Corp.

“We know it’s a tall building but it’s really the driver for getting all these other community benefits,” said Pasquarelli, adding that no resident’s view of the Brooklyn Bridge will be blocked by the tower.

The mayor had signaled what was to come at the Seaport in response to Downtown Express questions last week at a Nov. 12 press conference in Lower Manhattan.

“I don’t have any philosophical prohibition in my mind about putting a tower next to a historical district — this is New York City,” he said. “Throughout this city we have some extraordinary modern buildings right next to historic buildings….

“By the way it’s all case by case. The attitude we’re going to take — I said before we need to have much more affordable housing. In some cases that’s going to take taller and denser buildings, but it’s always about the specific site.”

Affordable housing has also been a high priority for many of the tower opponents, but they have made it clear it would not be enough to win support.

“That may be fine for the administration but not for the community,” John Fratta, a working group member and chairperson of Community Board 1’s Seaport Committee, told Downtown Express earlier in the year. “It’s still a tower and it just doesn’t belong.”

The New Market Building is just outside the South Street Seaport Historic District, but it was a part of the old Fulton Fish Market, and preservationists have tried in vain for many years to landmark it.

The working group guidelines treated it as part of the district and the Hughes firm all along has said that it supports the working group.

“It was a very good process,” Chris Curry, the Hughes executive in charge of the project, said last week. “I actually think we’ll have a better project because of it.”

A source opposed to the current plan said Wednesday night’s meeting was civil, but both sides understand it’s time to “play hardball.” The plan is likely to undergo more revisions given the initial negative reaction from the local politicians.

Curry had claimed back in January that the original building’s height was 600 feet, but a source sympathetic to Hughes said Wednesday that Curry was incorrect and that the building had actually been 650 feet, meaning it has been reduced by over 150 feet.

“Our plan preserves the historic district, repairs crumbling infrastructure and delivers the benefits the community has called for: waterfront access, a middle school that could also serve as a community center, affordable housing, funding to save the Seaport Museum and tall ships, and a fresh food market, among other things,” Weinreb said in a prepared statement Wednesday night. “The plan represents a more than $300 million investment in public benefits for Lower Manhattan…. We are proud to have the support of Lower Manhattan families and small business owners who know that the only way to truly save the South Street Seaport is to invest in its future. We are confident that as more residents learn about our plan, they will embrace it.”

For her part, Brewer, in her statement, said: “Historical context, building heights, and maintaining the vitality of the area are all elements which must be factored in to any final project in this crucial Manhattan neighborhood — the neighborhood where, in many ways, New York City began. As I’ve said before, building a tower at the South Street Seaport is like building a tower at Colonial Williamsburg.”

Although there is strong neighborhood opposition to the tower, it’s far from universal. There appears to be a large minority which is sympathetic to the tower, or at least more interested in negotiating community givebacks rather than reducing the building’s size.

A few mothers stopped last week to speak to Councilmember Chin after a “town hall” meeting.

One of them, Amanda Byron Zink, also a Seaport resident and small business owner, said, “there’s a large number of residents who are not being heard. We’ve heard rumblings of a school a community center space, a green market.”

Zink said she’s also expecting the project will attract more and better stores to the neighborhood.

“I want to stay in the South Street Seaport [to shop],” she said. “I don’t want to go to Brooklyn anymore. I don’t want to go to Battery Park City anymore.”

A rendering of the Tin Building. Image courtesy of SHoP Architects

A rendering of the Tin Building. Image courtesy of SHoP Architects

Before being built, the plan would need to receive Landmarks Preservation Commission approval. Brewer and Community Board 1 would make a formal advisory opinion before it would go to Chin and her Council colleagues for an up or down vote.

Although tower opponents could not have been heartened by some of the mayor’s remarks last week, they were no doubt pleased to hear de Blasio’s strong support for another working group goal — keeping the South Street Seaport Museum afloat in the face of financial difficulties.

“I think the Seaport Museum is really crucial to the city and I think it has to be protected because this is how New York City became New York City,” de Blasio said in response to this paper. “We’re here because of the water, because of the maritime industry and I think it’s really important future generations feel that — so protecting the museum in some form is something I care about a lot.”

A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN THE NOV. 20 – DEC. 3, 2014 EDITION OF DOWNTOWN EXPRESS. Read the online version posted Nov. 19, 2014.

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13 Responses to Hughes Corp. responds to Seaport tower criticisms

  1. The wind bag that keeps comparing New York City to Colonial Williamsburg needs to be run out of office. How any elected official in this City could make an insane comparison like that should perhaps move to Virginia. Can we please get this project moving forward? Fish Market out in 2004, now over a decade of missed opportunities and bogus political back door maneuvers from Chin and Brewer. Time to push this Laverne and Shirley duo off the stage and allow this neighborhood to flourish and grow – to meet the needs of the 64,000 Fidi residents, build schools and open space and new shops so I don't have to go to midtown to buy basic necessities!!!

  2. In case you all are curious here is more information on Colonial Williamsburg; I think someone might want to alert Brewer. CW is a preserved resort and amusement park. The seaport is a vibrant neighborhood within Manhattan. Get a grip. – Colonial Williamsburg‎
    Learn about Special Offers, Events & Tourism at CW's Official Site.
    Colonial Williamsburg has 257 followers on Google+
    101 Visitor Center Drive, Williamsburg, Virginia‎
    – (757) 229-1000

  3. Doris the seaport is a vibrant UNIQUE neighborhood in Manhattan, and HHC wants to transform it into another generic shopping mall. We don't need a downtown Columbus Circle and we don't need boring chain stores that you can find everywhere else in the USA. We need to keep our history alive and do some modernization, sure…but a 400 foot tower in the middle of the Seaport? NO. What will count once they put this plan into action is who will pay the most rent; they care nothing about the character or history of our neighborhood! Unique retail will give way to chain stores. Restaurants with character like Acqua and Barbalu and MarkJoseph's will give way to Applebee's and Chilis. This is why we have to push back.

  4. The history of NYC is in danger of being lost. The South St. Seaport Museum itself is a document of NYC African American history, as some of the slave traders, illegal but secretly shipping slaves to Cuba in 1856 and 1860;s, dined and drank at Sweets Tavern, that is part of the South St. Seaport Museum. The old hotel, Meyers and Fulton Ferry Hotels, that are preserved as part of the museum building are also in danger, of being demolished, along with its preserved laundry room, staircase and sailors' grafitti on the walls. All because Howard Hughes Corp. of Dallas ,Texas, has plans to put 60-70 units of affordable housing in the preserved 1810 building Schermerhorn Row, part of the South St. Seaport Museum. HHC has the ability to build a 1000 foot tower on 80 South St. Why not put 60-70 affordable (middle class) apartments there instead?
    HHC's arrogance, their paying $3.50 a sq foot and getting $300 a sq foot for retail, and more for residential is an insider scandal, done with the silent arrogance of EDC, who answer to no one, and who do not even appear at public meetings, but only communicate with text messages.
    This is an Historic District, ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. The local restaurants and small businesses and residents deserve better than an occupation by a megalith from Texas.

  5. I remember when the seaport district had an authenticity to it. When it smelled like an actual fish market. It has long since been so cheapened and Disneyfied, there really needn't be a discussion of whether another tower will add or detract from it.

    New York has always been about building, rebuilding, and rebuilding again. I have no problem with this new development as an idea.

    But the architecture? If one may call it that! To call it banal is a compliment. More often than not, when New York is presented with an opportunity to build great, we build …ugh …anything but.

    It isn't a question of scale as much as it is a problem of lack of imagination. Where's the risk? Where's the vision?

    • Who the heck want the smell of fish back!!!! We are well rid of that and HHC is doing its best to get rid of the awful mess that Rouse left with the tacky old pier 17 mall. I, as well as a great number of my neighbors, applaud what HHC is doing with Pier 17 and the conversion of the Fulton Market building into an iPic movie complex! Finally, we will have entertainment, restaurants and retail that appeal to the people who now live here and would like to shop, eat and play here. HHC is now proposing to include a new middle school (badly needed), 90 units of affordable housing (badly needed), community space (badly needed), space for the Seaport Museum and an extension of the esplanade in addition to the rebuilding of the Tin Building and and all the NIMBYS can say is NO! Many of us support HHC and this is a great start to a compromise, but clearly the NIMBY's have no interest in compromises. It would be great if they could move the tower elsewhere and still be able to provide all of this to the community, but if they can't, we're OK with the tower. WHERE IS YOUR PLAN for getting all of these things done without a tower? Who else is going to provide $125MM and get nothing in return?

  6. Hey folks why not follow the facts, HHC will start by giving the Seaport Museum $10 Million dollars out of the gate to prop themselves up and start anew as reported in the NY Times;… Do your best to avoid these terrorist propaganda groups like Save our Seaport, unless you are in the market for scrimshaw, harpoons and heaps of lies. So when did Texas become the Death Star? I thought it was New Jersey.

  7. You fail to mention that Howard Hughes SAYS they will give $10 million, but so also did Rouse, and they ended up not paying any money to the museum. And Howard Hughes has already gone through the museum when MCNY was still in residence, and HHC was walking around with a tape measure, measuring for curtains. And they want to put 60-70 units of affordable housing in the Schermerhorn Row, the 1810 building which was originally renovated, partly with public money, for the Museum. How is that helping the museum, by kicking it out, and building a 5,000 sq foot building on Pier 16 for it?!

  8. The facts are that the current size of the museum is about 20,000 sq feet of space for offices, etc. and 20,000 sq feet for exhibition galleries. The total is about 40,000 sq feet. How would building a new 5,000 sq. foot space HELP the museum. That is the DESTRUCTION of the museum. It has been starved to death by its landlord, the City, with EDC acting as its landlord. We should sue EDC, for starvation, mistreatment and abuse. We need another group to adopt the museum. Howard Hughes is continuing the starvation, and kicking the museum out of its home, its 1810-12 beatutiful and historic building. Let the affordable housing be put in the new 1,000. foot tower on 80 South st.

  9. Count me as one of the "large minority that is sympathetic to the tower". People really want to forego $300mm in investments into the community, including a school and more, just because their aesthetic sensibilities are so outraged by a tall building? In NYC no less? These people should not be allowed to call themselves "community opposition" — they are just gut-level opponents of "towers", despite the enormous good the proceeds from the tall building will bring. There are thousands upon thousands of towers in NYC, and yet there is still a serious housing shortage. Does the "horror" of having some views blocked or some murky sense that a historic neighborhood's character is being tarnished outweigh the tangible benefits of more housing and millions in community investment? I certainly think not. If anything let's revert to the even taller plan.

  10. Seaport resident

    Some community benefits:
    – a new mixed-use building – now down-sized to a mere 494 ft.; the height just a tad above the 120 ft. scale of the
    historic district, and what's the issue with it looming above the the Brooklyn Bridge towers at 276 ft., and blocking
    views that the public now enjoys; (And anyway, can we still call a 42 story building a 'tower'?)
    – the winner: 150 condos, market rate, for 150 one-percenters, who will enjoy full, and exclusive, views of the Brooklyn
    Bridge while occupying PUBLIC land;
    – Some politically correct ‘affordable’ housing – some 50 or 60 apts., albeit ‘affordable’ as defined for the downtown
    Manhattan area may well be beyond the means of most of the general public;
    – To accommodate the ‘affordable housing’, the South Street Seaport Museum can vacate Schermerhorn Row and
    relocate to a new and better suited 5,000 sq. ft. building on Pier 16. Maybe the museum could just repurpose
    Skipper’s Pierside Café on Pier16 and save some money for the city;
    – For the water rats among us, a marina at the Brooklyn Bridge beach, with maybe some berthing spaces set aside for
    historic ships displaced from their former museum space at Pier 15; that is – provided the tidal currents and security
    issues don’t decide otherwise;
    – The requisite school is now added to the mix, and the tower is almost vanishing in the midst above it.

    Coming down from the clouds for a reality check: A public school on public land – definitely a valid option to be explored; a luxury tower on public land in a very special historic area- a nonstarter.

  11. How many students in this so called 'middle school"???

  12. Wahhhh!!!! I want everything but I want to give NOTHING in return!!!!!!!!!!!

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