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Residents Boo Developer's 'Gross' Plan for 50-Story Seaport Tower

By Irene Plagianos | November 20, 2013 8:58am
 Residents booed Seaport developer Howard Hughes Corporation's recently revealed plans for a 50-story luxury tower during a packed CB1 meeting on November 19, 2013.
Residents Slam Plan for Seaport Tower
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SOUTH STREET SEAPORT — Howard Hughes Corporation’s plan to build a 50-story apartment and hotel tower on the South Street Seaport waterfront was met with boos, hisses — and one resounding shout of “It’s gross!” — as the company presented its Seaport redevelopment proposal to a packed Community Board 1 meeting Tuesday evening.

The heated meeting came less than a day after the Seaport developer released its long-anticipated plans to overhaul the abandoned Fulton Fish Market warehouses that sit next to the soon-to-be redone Pier 17, and build a new, soaring high-rise.

The proposed tower left many residents fuming, with locals fearing, among other potential problems, that the building will obstruct views and stick out like a sore thumb in neighborhood of low-rise 19th-century buildings.

 Seaport developer Howard Hughes Corporation is planning a 50-story tower where the vacant New Market Building now sits.
Seaport developer Howard Hughes Corporation is planning a 50-story tower where the vacant New Market Building now sits.
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Rendering by SHOP Architects

While Howard Hughes senior executive vice president Christopher Curry and project architect Gregg Pasquarelli, of SHoP Architects, tried to assure residents that the redevelopment proposal was still “very preliminary," dozens of people spoke out against the skinny waterfront skyscraper at Tuesday evening's meeting. 

“I think you see that the nature of this historic neighborhood is small-scale buildings,” said Paul Kefer, a longtime Seaport resident. “It just doesn’t fit. It doesn’t fit.”

As Curry explained that the company had a “long way to our goal,” and that nothing would happen immediately, he was met with jeers from the crowd, with one woman calling out “Yeah, yeah, yeah more lies — put them in jail.”

As some local residents have long feared, Howard Hughes’ plan calls for tearing down the New Market Building along the East River, one of the old fish warehouses. The vacant building, Pasquarelli said, is in total disrepair.

The neighboring Tin Building is also in an “uninhabitable, dilapidated” state, Pasquarelli said, but that structure, part of the landmarked Seaport historic district, can’t be demolished. 

Instead, the company intends to restore the Tin Building and add another story to the empty warehouse that will one day house a food market. Howard Hughes plans to dismantle the building and move it 30 feet to the east, to make way for the new skyscraper, and several feet higher, to protect it from storms.

Howard Hughes also intends to tear down the Link Building, which sits at the base of Pier 17 and currently houses several restaurants.

In addition, the proposal includes restoring the crumbling foundation of the Seaport piers, creating a new marina and extending Beekman and Fulton streets eastward about 100 feet, bringing cars under the FDR Drive and out onto the pier.

Howard Hughes executives also said they are working to help keep the ailing Seaport Museum afloat, but they didn't elaborate on how, exactly, they plan to come to the museum's aid. 

The extensive repairs to the Seaport's old structure, as well as several new amenities for the community, will cost Howard Hughes about $125 million, Pasquarelli said.

The luxury tower would allow the company to offset that cost, he said.

Howard Hughes will need a slew of city approvals to go forward with the plan, including a waiver to construct a 600-foot tower in an area that limits the height of new buildings to 350 feet.

Pasquarelli said that creating such a tall tower, and making it part of the historic neighborhood, “is a hard project to work on,” but he said he was confident that a tall, narrow building would be less obtrusive than a shorter, wider one.

"It is a very difficult process to try and think about how to move this to the next step," Pasquarelli said. "We want to be incredibly transparent...and we're looking to get tons of feedback over the coming year."

The next step is for Howard Hughes to take its proposal to the Landmarks Preservation Commission in March. The company needs the LPC's approval, as well as the City Council's support. Curry said the lengthy public review process won't be complete until the spring of 2015.

Community Board 1 is planning a town hall meeting on the project in January, to begin "the long process of discussions ahead," CB1 chairwoman Catherine McVay Hughes said.

CB1' s Seaport Committee voted Tuesday night not to support the tower as it is currently proposed.