As NYC is looking to rebound from COVID-19, one developer recently announced a plan to revitalize Lower Manhattan with an influx of affordable housing and renovate the South Street Seaport Museum.
On Oct. 22, the Howard Hughes Corporation unveiled a $1.4 billion proposal for Lower Manhattan’s Seaport area, including the transformation of an underutilized full-block surface parking lot along the boundary of the South Street Seaport Historic District into a mixed-income development that would include some of the area’s first new affordable housing in decades.
The proposal also provides for the long-term financial stability of the South Street Seaport Museum, improvements to the museum’s historic buildings that will allow it to reopen and a design for a new museum building on an adjacent vacant lot.
“The Howard Hughes Corporation remains firmly committed to the Seaport and New York City for the long-term, with mixed-income housing and a plan to save the Seaport Museum at the heart of our commitment,” said Mary Ann Tighe, member of HHC’s Board of Directors. “We believe visionary projects like this will help propel the city’s economic recovery.”
The main piece of the proposal is 250 Water Street, which will bring at least 100 permanently affordable apartments to a Community Board district where just 2.5 percent of all housing qualifies as affordable and the median household income is more than $150,000. The apartments will be made available to families earning 40 percent of Area Median Income. Of the project’s roughly 360 overall units, approximately 25 percent will be affordable, along with approximately 260 condominium units.
This new affordable housing is significant following the exit of nearby Southbridge Towers from the Mitchell-Lama housing program in 2015 with a co-op conversion that has resulted in more than 1,650 formerly income-restricted apartments being bought and sold at market prices well out of reach for working families.
“This exciting new plan proposed by HHC for 250 Water Street is the first plan to incorporate a viable fiscal support mechanism for our cherished South Street Seaport Museum, the cultural center of this historic neighborhood,” said Paul Hovitz, a former longtime Community Board 1 member. “It’s important to remember that the Save Our Seaport coalition began a few years back as the Save our Seaport Museum Coalition — so this news will surely be cheered by many in the neighborhood.
“With a design appropriate to its upland location, this proposal will create a safe, more unified pedestrian experience for those of us who live nearby. And critically, it will bring the first mandatory affordable housing to Community Board 1. I’m very pleased to support this plan, which will spur economic recovery for our local small businesses and merchants, and greatly improve our community.”
250 Water Street, used as a surface parking lot for decades, is located on the edge of the Historic District between the tall skyline of Lower Manhattan and the lower scale of the Seaport.
In planning 250 Water Street, HHC explored multiple configurations for the site and presented several options as part of three community workshops. Shaped by feedback from stakeholders, Community Board 1 and elected officials, the highest point of the proposed building is now 470 feet.
The proposal also aims to preserve the character of the Seaport by refurbishing the historic buildings on Schermerhorn Row, preserving the cobblestone streets and the nearly completed renovation of the Tin Building.
HHC will also provide support for the South Street Seaport Museum, which over the past two decades has survived significant setbacks, including a two-year closure after 9/11, the 2008 financial collapse, flooding during Hurricane Sandy and now faces a potential for permanent closure in the wake of the pandemic.
Through HHC’s proposal, $50 million will be available to the museum, which will allow it to plan for a new state-of-the-art building.
“For decades the Seaport Museum has credibly delivered its world-renowned and award-winning program despite a perennial shortage of reliable revenues,” said Jonathan Boulware, president and CEO of the South Street Seaport Museum. “Following the repeated setbacks the Museum has endured, the pandemic is a terrible blow. The proposed financial support from this project and phased improvements to its Schermerhorn Row home would go a very long way to ensuring that this irreplaceable jewel in New York’s crown survives and thrives.”
The project will also provide economic benefits for the area and the city. The 250 Water Street project’s construction will generate more than $1.8 billion in economic output annually for both the city and the state, $640 million in new labor income and roughly 2,000 construction jobs. Ultimately, the site is projected to create an estimated 2,475 new direct and indirect full and part-time permanent positions, and annually generate $645 million in economic output for New York City, along with $327 million in wages, salaries and benefits.
Several government approvals are required for the project. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) must approve the designs of the 250 Water Street Building and the new museum building as well as the improvements to the museum’s historic buildings.
Additionally, a framework for transferring unused development rights from the HHC-leased Pier 17 and Tin Building sites to 250 Water Street must be approved. Through the development rights sale, upon which the 250 Water Street proposal is contingent and requires City review and consent, the $50 million will be made available to the museum.
HHC will undertake a public review that will provides numerous opportunities for community engagement and public comment, including at LPC and under the City’s full public land use review process, known as the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). The proposal will be formally presented to the LPC in December and the ULURP process is expected to begin in the spring of 2021. Under this timeline, if approved, construction would begin in 2022.
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“The proposed financial support from this project ... would go a very long way to ensuring that this irreplaceable jewel in New York’s crown survives and thrives.” Jonathan Boulware, president and CEO of South Street Seaport Museum