The Save Our Seaport preservationist group has been battling changes that could dramatically alter both the neighborhood and the Manhattan skyline, and earlier this week they updated locals and supporters at a town meeting. Their latest focus is on the Howard Hughes Corporation's expected tower proposal. While plans for a 50-story tower were put on ice after community backlash, Save Our Seaport is worried that it's about to be put back on the table in a very similar form. In July, the opposition wrote an op-ed in the NY Times:
"The South Street Seaport, home to Schermerhorn Row and “the street of ships,” the Lower Manhattan district that moved untold pounds of fish flesh and inspired Herman Melville to write the biggest fish story ever told, is on the verge of becoming a vast shopping complex, coupled with a Bloombergian luxury tower — all made possible by the city’s possible giveaway of our public property to a Texas-based real estate developer."
“I think it’s a terrible idea," said Brendan Sexton, a former board member of the South Street Seaport Museum. "I don’t oppose all high-rise buildings, there’s high-rise buildings just to the side of the historic district that serve a real function for companies that are in them. High rise buildings are not an evil. But this particular spot has value for you, and me, and the tourists we want to encourage. It is a piece of old New York.”
Some members and supporters of the Save Our Seaport group arrived at the meetings in new T-shirts condemning any potential tower development. Phrases like “Not on America’s Front Door," and "Remember Penn Station," were emblazoned on the shirts.
“The future of the Seaport is critically important. This is the port of New York, this is where New York was formed, down here in lower Manhattan. And it’s just a very special historic area,” argued Paul Goldstein, District Office Director for State Assemblyman Sheldon Silver.
Further elected official support for the seaport came from Jim Caras, a spokesperson for Borough President Gale Brewer, who said that Brewer was "committed to the work of the Seaport Working Group," a broader coalition of interested parties. Council Member Margaret Chin also released a statement:
“The Howard Hughes Corporation’s original plans for a 50-story tower at the South Street Seaport were unacceptable. That’s why I worked with my elected colleagues and Community Board 1 to create the Seaport Working Group, which has provided an unprecedented level of community input before the beginning of any [Uniform Land Use Review Procedure] at this site. I expect Howard Hughes to comply with the guidelines put forth by the Seaport Working Group, and our community continues to wait for them to present their revised plans for the site.”
The Seaport Working Group, established earlier this year, is a mixed bag of politicians, community board members, local residents, interest groups and a Howard Hughes rep. Their guidelines for any future work in the Seaport area were released in June, and while not binding to the Howard Hughes Corporation, the developer says it will "try to appease community members."
Bridget Schuy, a Save Our Seaport supporter and area resident, has kept a wary eye on recent development. After the original tower announcement, she's doubtful any future plans from Howard Hughes will please locals. “They’re basically giving the whole community a giant F U. I mean, that’s what it really comes down to.”
The Seaport’s future has been murky for a number of years, with the South Street Seaport Museum facing financial difficulties and the area taking a major hit from Hurricane Sandy back in 2012. Just this year, the New Amsterdam Market, which operated from the Old Fulton Fish Market since 2007, bowed out from the area after a scathing email from its founder.
On their SeeChange/NY website, the Howard Hughes Corporation states that their Pier 17 redevelopment will "create an unparalleled New York experience" at the Seaport:
"Pier 17 will feature a contemporary design, conceptualized by SHoP Architects, which will honor its historic roots as a bustling marketplace and influential port of trade. The revitalization will also include lush open spaces, a rooftop venue and a retail environment complete with premier fashion brands, restaurants and a world-class market."
The Howard Hughes Corporation is expected to reveal details on its plan for Pier 17's neighbor (50-story tower or otherwise) in the next couple of weeks.