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Hundreds Pack Meeting on Controversial Seaport Redevelopment

By Irene Plagianos | December 11, 2014 3:54pm
 Howard Hughes detailed changes to the Seaport they hope to make.
South Street Seaport Redevelopment
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LOWER MANHATTAN — Several hundred people packed into St. Paul’s Chapel Wednesday evening to hear new details and give their opinion on Howard Hughes Corporation’s controversial plans to redevelop the South Street Seaport.

At the Community Board 1 meeting, officials described specifics of the sweeping plan, including moving and reconstructing the historic Tin Building, erecting a new, five-story building on John Street and adding lights underneath the FDR. Those are all pieces of the proposal that will need the city Landmarks Preservation Commission's approval to move forward.

The most controversial part of the proposal — a 494-foot luxury residential tower — was not officially on the agenda at Wednesday's CB1 meeting because it sits outside of the Seaport's historic district and does not need the Landmarks Preservation Commission's approval. But that didn't stop people from voicing opinions about it.

The overhaul plans, including the tower, got a mixed reaction at the meeting, as some slammed the design, while others welcomed the revitalization of the Seaport. Cheers erupted, along with a smattering of hisses and boos, as more than 70 people spoke up on the plan.

"When I look at this [proposal] I really get the feeling of Las Vegas," said Paul Hovitz, a CB1 member. "I don't get a lot of feeling of the old Seaport."

Financial District resident Luis Vasquez, who was one of many people wearing yellow and blue T-shirts emblazoned with "See/Change Happen" to support Howard Hughes, said the community needed the redevelopment.

“We need more schools, more community space…Howard Hughes has a plan to make that happen,” Vasquez said.

The pro-development group Friends of the Seaport provided the T-shirts and offered free ice skating, drinks and food after the meeting to those who wore shirts.

Howard Hughes revealed its latest version of the Seaport development plan earlier this fall, with a shorter tower than was previously proposed.

Some in the community say the tower is still too tall, but the developer maintains that it is a necessary piece of a project that also carries with it $300 million in community amenities.

The development would include a middle school, retail and 150 condo units in the tower, plus 70 units of affordable housing in historic buildings nearby on Schermerhorn Row.

Howard Hughes also wants to build a new marina east of Pier 17 and revive the cash-strapped South Street Seaport Museum.

Under the plan, the landmarked Tin Building would be moved 30 feet closer to Pier 17 and lifted 6 feet to prevent it from flooding. It would also be turned into a food market.

Wednesday night's meeting was the first of two hearings CB1 will hold before the plan moves to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The next meeting will be held on Jan. 4, when CB1 will vote on whether or not to support the changes.

The plan will then go to the LPC, followed by an extensive public land use review process.