Recently announced plans by the Howard Hughes Corporation for the Tin Building at the South Street Seaport received preliminary approval from community-board officials, but members expressed concerns that the developer’s vision for the Seaport is being released piecemeal instead of in one comprehensive proposal.
Howard Hughes met with CB1’s joint Landmarks and South Street Seaport/Civic Center on Jan. 19 to unveil plans for the Tin Building, a four-story landmarked structure at the Seaport. According to the presentation, Howard Hughes is proposing to move the Tin Building back from FDR Drive by 16 to 17 feet and raise it one foot out of the flood plain, as well as reduce the height of the building from four stories to three.
The refurbished building would sit atop newly restored pier pilings and contain a food market overseen by chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The proposal also calls for the demolition of the Head House and Link Building, two dilapidated structures adjacent to the Tin Building in front of Pier 17.
The joint Landmarks and South Street Seaport/Civic Center committees passed a resolution in support of the proposal, but requested of Howard Hughes a master plan for redevelopment at the Seaport as a whole, which would include the company’s current approach to the controversial New Market Building site.
“The committees adopted a resolution recommending approval of this application, but the resolution included language reiterating our objection to segmentation of the planning process and the need for transparency,” said CB1 chair Catherine McVay-Hughes.
City and state environmental review laws require all components of a proposed project to be looked at collectively during an environmental impact review. Separating them is known as “segmentation” in development parlance, and is not permissible.
“This is a serious concern to the community who want the master plan and not for this thing to be segmented,” said McVay-Hughes. “The community has asked for a master plan.”
Chris Curry, Howard Hughes’ Senior Vice-President for Development, said the company is continuing to “explore a revised mixed-use development plan taking into account feedback from the community and elected officials.”
“The Howard Hughes Corporation remains steadfast in our commitment to the revitalization of the Seaport District, making it once again one of New York’s premier destinations and a much needed community anchor for Lower Manhattan,” said Curry. “We’re pleased to have the community board’s support on our plans to reconstruct the historic Tin Building into a 21st century center for food and commerce at the Seaport in keeping with the neighborhood’s rich history.”
The Seaport community has been waiting for a revised, comprehensive proposal for redevelopment at the Seaport since Howard Hughes’ plan for a 494-foot luxury residential tower on the New Market Building site was shot down by elected officials early last year.
Redevelopment of the New Market Building, which sits just north of the Tin Building and Pier 17, is the main point of contention in the community. Elected officials and preservationists maintain that any tower on the site would be out of step with the surrounding South Street Seaport Historic District (the New Market Building falls just outside the city’s historic district but is considered a historic site by state and federal agencies).
CB1 isn’t the only entity in Lower Manhattan looking for a master plan while worrying about transparency and the future of the Seaport. Prior to the Jan. 19 board meeting, local preservation group Friends of South Street Seaport revealed the results of a Freedom of Information request they filed that found Howard Hughes and the NYC Economic Development Corporation had submitted draft plans last August for a hotel on the New Market Building site with the City Planning Commission - without informing the community. Howard Hughes has since said they’re abandoning those plans, but the opaque nature of their filing has stoked fears over transparency.
“The members of the community were outraged [Howard Hughes] filed the plan without giving them to the community board or the Seaport Working Group,” said McVay-Hughes, referring to a coalition of elected officials and community organizations - of which Howard Hughes was part – formed to advise the redevelopment.
The plans uncovered by FOSSS comprise what’s known as a “preliminary draft environmental assessment statement” and a “draft scope of work” for a forthcoming environmental impact review and statement. Due to their precursory nature, the documents aren’t subject to the same disclosure or public hearing requirements that occur during the environmental impact review process.
It appears, however, that Howard Hughes and the EDC were not keen on public disclosure of the hotel plans, as they requested from the City Planning Commission, “confidential treatment under [the Freedom of Information Law]” for both documents.
“They were filed confidentially and nobody was told, they were filed secretly, basically,” said Maureen Koetz, a land-use and environmental lawyer working on behalf of FOSSS.
A Howard Hughes spokesperson said the company is no longer pursuing the hotel plan. Those documents, said the spokesperson, “contained a conceptual-level plan for the New Market site that is not going forward at this time.”
The documents indicate plans for a 10-story, 170,000 square-foot hotel with approximately 185 rooms. An additional 25,000 square feet would be given over to restaurant and retail space, and the project would include a 35,000 square-foot event space. The proposed building would have a maximum height of 160 feet and would be 10 stories tall.
Plans for the Tin Building in the draft scope of work filed in August differ with those that were presented by Howard Hughes to CB1 earlier this month. According to the plans from August, the Tin Building would be dismantled during the pier restoration work and reassembled further away from South Street and FDR Drive, and instead of lopping a story off the top in accordance with their most recent plan, Howard Hughes would instead add a story onto the Tin Building.
The August plans also call for the construction of five pavilions with retail and food uses under FDR Drive, which would total about 14,000 square feet. Howard Hughes maintains in their August filings as well plans for a 100-vessel marina between Pier 17 and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Koetz said she believes Howard Hughes is seeking to segment the whole of their Seaport redevelopment project.
“What I believe they’re doing now is to break the project down into parts,” she said.
The Howard Hughes spokesperson said the company is engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the EDC, elected officials and community stakeholders for a plan at the New Market Building site.
“Once a proposal for the New Market site is finalized, [Howard Hughes] will submit an application to the appropriate agencies and the proposal will undergo all required public review as well as community engagement,” said the spokesperson.