SUMMARY OF LAST NIGHT’S TOWN HALL MEETING
Last evening, January 13th, Manhattan Community Board 1, acting upon a request by Save Our Seaport (“SOS”), held a Town Hall Meeting for more than three hundred community residents and small businesspeople to discuss the proposal by the Howard Hughes Corporation (“HHC”) to “fit” a 650 foot tall tower in place of the historic (1939) New Market Building, to “move” the historic (1909) Tin Building closer to their previously approved Pier 17 Glassed-In Retail Mall, and to rebuild pier platforms and pilings for service road circulation and an as yet unnamed “celebrity chef” food market.
HHC’s Vice President, Chris Curry, kicked off the meeting with a pared-down version of the SHoP Architects presentation from the November Board meeting — an overview of renderings for the tower, a relocated Tin Building and photos of deteriorated pier platforms and pilings. He warned attendees not to “underestimate” the economics of paying for pier infrastructure. He had previously tied the future of the South Street Seaport Museum to approval of this “Mixed-Use” plan.
Save Our Seaport launched a vigorous counter-attack, suggesting that HHC’s claim for the “Mixed-Use” site was no longer valid after missing various “milestones.” It was pointed out that there were many other City-owned “soft sites” that might be considered after a comprehensive community Master Planning process. SOS advocated for more “community friendly” uses for this site, expanding the South Street Seaport Museum and giving them control of the water-based activities, creating a Public Market, finding space for more school seats or other community facilities. Finally, SOS rejected the false argument that only HHC’s Mixed-Use Plan could save the Museum, based upon their new sweetheart lease deal negotiated with the City at Pier 17 (paying less than a nominal $3.50 per square foot of space while renting this space out to tenants for between $200-$300 per square foot).
Dozens of Southbridge Towers and Two Bridges Houses residents and museum volunteers gave their views about the Historic South Street Seaport District, as well as concerns about blocking the iconic Brooklyn Bridge vistas. About the latter, it was suggested more than once that HHC was giving the “middle finger” to its neighbors. One speaker likened the tower itself to a graphic representation of that finger.
Excerpts from other testimony called for “public use of public assets”, the HHC plan “is such a mistake”, “the Seaport Museum and the surrounding Historic District are gifts that need to be protected”, “we don’t build walls in New York (referring to the Texas-based developer)”, and “where is the NYC Economic Development Corporation and why are they NOT at this Town Hall meeting?”
Manhattan Community Board 1 Chair Catherine McVay-Hughes reminded the overflow crowd that this was merely the start of a long planning process and that any land-use decisions would ultimately be subject to the Uniform Land Use Review Planning (ULURP) process.
SAVE OUR SEAPORT PRESENTATION
The visual elements from our presentation at the Town Hall Meeting are available for download here (13mb PDF).
Below is a concise summary of the points made:
Save Our Seaport (“SOS”) and its coalition partners including: Seaport Speaks, Historic District Council, the New Amsterdam Market, Southbridge Towers and Two Bridges Houses have identified important community needs: resiliency, preservation and revival of the unique Seaport Historic District, a viable South Street Seaport Museum, a Street of Ships, a Public Market, school seats and community facilities for our new residential neighbors. This list can be used as a starting point in creating a comprehensive Master Plan to inform new development proposals along the Manhattan side of the East River.
The Seaport includes a number of UNASSIGNED city-owned assets, many of which could be dedicated to these and other community needs, including the New Fish Market and Tin Buildings. The Bloomberg administration treated all these assets like vacant lots and they have tried to hand them over to the Howard Hughes Corporation in the mistaken belief that privatization was “the only way” to restore them to a useful second life.
Everywhere else in the City, we have seen large scale public projects that bring together government and private funding to create community amenities and citywide destinations, including Brooklyn Bridge Park, Governors Island, the Hudson River Park, the High Line, and Four Freedoms Park.
SAVE OUR SEAPORT calls for a “Moratorium” to “STOP THE (ULURP) CLOCK.”
We ask that Mayor de Blasio annul the 12.12.11 Letter of Intent between the City and the Howard Hughes Corporation AND call for the new administration to review the situation at the Seaport (including Comptroller audits, an independent survey of all real estate, an independent review of all leases and lease “options,” lease obligations, etc.) in the belief that all this background information can lead to a real comprehensive planning process.
The Howard Hughes Corporation is only one of many stakeholders that need to work together to re-envision the future of the historic South Street Seaport and its environs.
Why should the East River Waterfront Community of Lower Manhattan allow its most valuable asset to be compromised by inappropriate development?