What is the Fate of South Street Seaport’s Redevelopment?

South Street Seaport, Howard Hughes Corporation, Pier 17, Community Conflict

                         Rendoring of Howard Hughes Corporation's Pier 17 Redevelopment

Redevelopment of historic South Street Seaport has been a hot-button issue since Hurricane Sandy ravaged lower Manhattan in 2012, and the fate of the iconic waterfront remains unclear.

Howard Hughes Corporation, the developer that owns South Street Seaport, proposed a $305 million plan for a massive redevelopment of Pier 17. It includes new public amenities and redesigned infrastructure, renovations of the iconic Tin Building and Fulton Fish Market, a new home for The Seaport Museum, and construction of an ultra-modern, multi-use commercial structure on Pier 17. There are simultaneous plans for a 494 ft, 42 story luxury residential / hotel tower, designed by SHoP architects to be erected on the waterfront adjacent to Pier 17. Hughes alternately showed interest in 80 South Street, another nearby towering luxury proposal. The green project was designed by Morali Architects with LEED and City Planning approval.

While much of Hughes’ proposal received city-approval, SHoP’s tower has met fierce community opposition who are adamant that the exceedingly tall, striated glass structure lacks context awareness. It’s in stark contrast to the Seaport’s architecture of old-world row houses, where vintage loft-style condos like The Walton provide ultra-modern living while maintaining the historic charm of the Financial District’s East River Harbour. Adding fuel to the fire, it would be built on the site of the historic but un-landmarked New Market Building. Additionally, it will obstruct Brooklyn Bridge views. Councilwoman Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer back this opposition, though Brewer explained to Capital New York  “We’re not opposed to the tower—we’re just opposed to it in that location.” Community sentiments are less tolerant. A polemic against the redevelopment came last summer in a New York Times op-ed, claiming the Seaport’s heritage will be destroyed to make way for luxury development.

Hughes countered opposition, stating that rebuilding the Seaport is the solution to a revitalized community. CEO David Weinreb told the Times, “The re-envisioned seaport district will transform the piers’ iconic waterfront setting into a vibrant, highly engaging area, while providing a critical catalyst for the revitalization of Lower Manhattan.” Additionally, they’ve made alterations to appease local elected officials. The developer scaled down the tower, chopping 156 ft off its height and bringing it to 42 floors. Hughes insisted this is the only concession possible without compromising its financial contributions; the tower’s revenue will be responsible for subsidizing all infrastructure improvements. Their website states the only remaining alternative is to scrap the proposal entirely.

Where, then, does the fate of South Street Seaport lie? Essentially in the hands of Hughes and elected officials. Tensions remain high and neither side show signs of further compromise. Hughes recently paid $30.8 million for 333,329 square feet of air rights above the Seaport, while the Special Landmarks Committee is attempting to landmark the New Market Building by extending the historic district’s parameters, a loophole that would prohibit the tower from being built on the Seaport and render the controversy moot.