Howard huge: Locals fear new Seaport tower after Howard Hughes Corp. buys lot across from Peck Slip School

Developer Howard Hughes Corporation purchased an acre of undeveloped property along Water Street currently being used as a parking lot, but which some locals fear is now destined to host a mega-development.
Photo by Colin Mixson

BY COLIN MIXSON

The Howard Hughes Corporation has purchased an acre of undeveloped asphalt across the street from Peck Slip School, horrifying local preservationists, who are already manning the barricades in anticipation of another protracted fight against an oversized development.

“Howard Hughes is now going to wade in on a controversy that has angered the community for 25 years, just when they were trying to make peace with the community,” said Michael Kramer, a volunteer on the steering committee for Save Our Seaport. “We are working on various strategies to protect this historic district.”

Howard Hughes purchased the site at 250 Water St. that’s currently being used as a parking lot by owner Peck Slip Associates — which is controlled by the Milstein family — for $180 million dollars, adding the property to a portfolio that includes the Seaport’s Tin Building and the soon-to-open shopping and entertainment center at Pier 17, in addition to a stake in the Mr. C Hotel on Peck Slip, the developer confirmed.

The purchase comes as a huge windfall for the Milstein Family, which purchased the property for only $5.8 million in 1979, but failed to redevelop the property following a decades long battle with community members, which culminated in a 2003 rezoning that capped heights there at 120 feet.

The new owner hasn’t shared its plans for the site yet, but Howard Hughes may be looking to transfer air rights left over from its other Seaport properties, which — if the developer exercises its option for the city-owned New Market building — could balloon up to 627,000 square feet, according to its annual report from 2017.

If that is the plan, however, Howard Hughes would still have to undergo a public review process culminating in a City Council vote to get a zoning text change on the site, in addition to other permits needed to exceed the permitted building height, according to Diana Switaj, Director of Planning and Land Use at Community Board 1.

CB1 members are anticipating a large project at the site, given the developer’s record, and the board will definitely weigh in on the repercussions of construction there when Howard Hughes eventually unveils its plans, according to the group’s leader.

“Obviously people have the experience of a high rise, or very tall buildings being proposed at the Seaport, and now you’d be concerned they’re going to do the same thing here,” said CB1 chairman Anthony Notaro. “It could effect the school, streets, sanitation, traffic, depending on the size, it could have a big impact.”

Peck Slip School entered into an agreement with the parking lot operator last year to shut down Peck Slip during school hours, allowing kids in the space-strapped school a place to play during recess, and its unclear how the purchase may effect the kids’ ability to get fresh air.

Howard Hughes did not answer questions about the future of the  play street.

Taking an adversarial role to the development will only hurt the community, which should look to work with Howard Hughes in order to ensure that whatever construction occurs there includes benefits for the neighborhood, according to one local real estate guru, who said the developer might be persuaded to include a school, grocery store, library, or other community amenities on the space.

“I think the majority of people actually welcome something on this site, especially if the neighborhood gets something in return,” said Luis Vazquez, a real estate broker and author of the Fidi Fan Page. “There are a lot of things the community needs that can be included in this building.”

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