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Developer Must Reveal Plans for Historic Seaport Sites by Summer, City Says

By Irene Plagianos | February 28, 2013 8:01am

SOUTH STREET SEAPORT — Developer Howard Hughes Corporation must announce plans for two long-fought-over historic South Street Seaport properties by June 30 — or risk losing them for good, city officials said.

The real estate giant, whose massive redevelopment plan for the Seaport’s Pier 17 is set to go before City Council in March, also has dibs on two large historic buildings that sit at the base of the pier: the abandoned Fulton Fish Market warehouses known as the New Market Building and the Tin Building.

The company has first rights to develop the city-owned properties after signing a letter of intent with the city Economic Development Corporation — but Howard Hughes has not said what, if anything, it plans to do with the space.

 The New Market Building at the South Street Seaport.
The New Market Building at the South Street Seaport.
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Municipal Art Society

The company's silence has raised fears in the community that Howard Hughes may be looking to resurrect previous developer General Growth Properties' failed proposal from several years ago to knock down the New Market Building and replace it with a much-maligned 500-foot condo and hotel tower.

Now, though, Howard Hughes must submit schematic plans for the New Market Building to the EDC by the end of June, or else the company will lose its right to develop the property, the agency said.

And if plans aren’t made for the adjacent Tin Building by that same deadline, Howard Hughes will face more restrictions on the building's possible redevelopment in the future, though the company won’t completely relinquish its chance to overhaul the site, the EDC said.

While much of the South Street Seaport, including the Tin Building, sits in a historic district, the New Market Building does not, so it is the one place in the area where a larger, more modern building could rise, a possibility that has long sparked concern among local residents.

Instead of a new development, many community leaders have been pushing the city and Howard Hughes to repair the two historic Fish Market buildings and turn them into a permanent home for the popular, seasonal New Amsterdam Market.

The market —  which features dozens of vendors offering artisanal cheese, locally-made jam, and other delicacies — has been operating in a parking lot next to the former Fulton Fish Market buildings since its launch in 2007.

"These buildings are unique, iconic and historic," said Robert LaValva, founder of New Amsterdam Market. "Our goal is to preserve them as public marketplace."

Howard Hughes previously offered LaValva the chance to move the New Amsterdam Market into the new Pier 17, which will feature high-end shops and restaurants built in a sleek, glass structure.

But LaValva turned the offer down, saying it was more important to rebuild a market in the historic space where vendors once hawked freshly caught fish.

If Howard Hughes misses the EDC's deadline for proposing plans for the former market buildings, LaValva said it could be the start of an "exciting new chapter, a new scenario" for the space — but he's not getting his hopes up.

"We really don't know what will happen, whether they submit plans or not," LaValva said. "Either way, we're going to keep trying to preserve those buildings and bring them back to life, instead of watching them be torn down."

Howard Hughes did not immediately return request for comment.