Seaport buildings to be partially demolished

| 13 May 2015 | 02:50

The New York City Economic Development Corporation is planning to demolish portions of both the New Market Building and the Tin Building on the South Street Seaport.

The agency said the “cooler areas” that are attached to the rear of both buildings, on the East River side, were deemed to be dangerous and precariously close to collapsing.

Both cooler areas, which were used to store fish when the South Street Seaport was an active market, are attached to their respective buildings and portions of both buildings will be demolished as well, said an EDC spokesperson.

“In April, EDC and its structural engineers inspected both buildings and found them to be increasingly unsound, but of utmost concern to us are the cooler areas, which run along the back of both the Tin and New Market buildings,” said the EDC in an email to Our Town Downtown. “This area was determined to be in danger of imminent collapse and must be demolished.”

The New Market Building, which dates back to 1939 and sits adjacent to Pier 17 at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, sits atop a parcel of land that the Howard Hughes Corporation is proposing to build a 494-foot luxury residential tower. The tower proposal has been at the center of a bitter land use dispute since late-2013 between preservationists at the Seaport and the developer.

The EDC spokesperson stressed that the agency’s decision to partially demolish the building is unrelated to Howard Hughes’ interests in the area.

“It has no bearing on Howard Hughes’ plans right now,” said an EDC spokesperson. “It’s not affecting construction at Pier 17.”

Howard Hughes has a 60-year lease on the Seaport with the EDC, and has already received approval to turn Pier 17 into a shopping and dining destination.

The EDC indicated full demolition of the New Market Building could occur after the cooler area is demolished.

“The demolition of the cooler area is a first step and will allow EDC and the other agencies to more fully evaluate the remaining portions of the structure and determine if additional measures are needed, which may include full or partial demolition,” said the EDC in their email. “Changes to the Tin Building will be handled according to the appropriate procedure as determined by the Landmarks Preservation Commission and State Historic Preservation Office.”

The New Market Building falls outside the boundaries of the South Street Seaport Historic District, despite efforts by local preservation groups to confer upon it landmark status. The Tin Building, however, falls within the historic district and is subject to city and state historic preservation agencies.

“Both the Tin and New Market buildings suffer from significant structural issues and are in very poor condition overall,” the EDC said in their email.

The EDC called the demolition of the cooler areas “emergency work” and said they expect it to commence in July or August.

Robert LaValva, president of the New Amsterdam Market, which held events in front of the New Market Building before closing last year, said he’s not surprised the EDC is moving forward with a partial demolition.

“I think there’s been no maintenance on those buildings for over 10 years, so I think it’s inevitable that they’re going to fall apart,” said LaValva. “It’s demolition by neglect.”

LaValva was at the center of preservationist’s efforts to fight portions of Howard Hughes’ redevelopment proposal, before stepping back from the issue last summer. He said if Howard Hughes’ plan doesn’t ultimately come to fruition, and the buildings are eventually demolished because they’re in such poor condition, the city would have lost a historic piece of its fabric by not addressing their condition sooner.

“It’s concernging that, while there does seem to be long term plans for the site, it’s being allowed to deteriorate,” said LaValva. “Let’s say this development project is not approved, it would be a shame to lose this site due to this neglect.”

Howard Hughes must still go through the city’s public review process, known as ULURP, before embarking on their redevelopment project.

The EDC recently moved a bike lane out from under the canopy at the New Market Building to ensure public safety in case of collapse. They also said an environmental remediation study has begun to allow for hazardous material abatement prior to demolition.