Brewer and Chin Tell City: 'Get the Ball Rolling' on New Seaport Talks

The abandoned New Market Building in 2014. A $3.5 million request is being made to the city for a demolition engineering study. If approvals go as planned, the structure will come down in the fall. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Feb. 02, 2018

Local elected officials are calling on the city to resume formal talks—last held more than three years ago—on the redevelopment of the South Street Seaport.

The decision, jointly announced to the Trib on Thursday by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilwoman Margaret Chin, comes after Community Board 1 inadvertently learned of the city’s plans to demolish the New Market Building, a former fish market structure that some had hoped could be saved and possibly repurposed. Developer Howard Hughes Corp. has an option to develop on the site, a prospect that for years has been fraught with controversy.

In a resolution passed late last month, Community Board 1 fired off an angry statement to the Economic Development Corp., the city agency in charge of the Seaport, claiming it had again kept the community in the dark over plans for the historic neighborhood. And it called on elected officials to reestablish the Seaport Working Group, a gathering of civic leaders, elected officials and Hughes Corp. representatives that met throughout 2014 to establish wide-ranging principles for the Seaport’s redevelopment.

In the statement to the Trib, Brewer and Chin said: “We agree that it’s time to reconvene Seaport-area officials and stakeholders as a group and reestablish a regular, organized, productive way to share information and address the neighborhood’s construction mitigation, programming, code enforcement, and quality-of-life needs. We are contacting the Economic Development Corporation now to get the ball rolling and work out the details.”

In response to questions from the Trib, EDC spokesman Shavone Williams declined to say in a statement whether the agency would support another working group. But he noted that EDC officials and several CB 1 members came together last month following news of the planned demolition. “We have met with the Community Board leadership to discuss their concerns and we will continue to communicate with them going forward.”

Saul Scherl, Howard Hughes Corp. president for the Tri-State region, said in a statement that constructive conversation with the community is vital.

“While we have not been advised of specifics regarding this advisory group, we look forward to our ongoing dialogue and regular meetings with community stakeholders and elected officials,” Scherl said.

Regarding the planned takedown of the New Market Building, which has long been known to be in severe disrepair, EDC’s Shavone Williams told the Trib in an email: “EDC’s priority is to complete demolition of the building to ensure safety for residents in this community.”

But Paul Goldstein, chair of CB 1’s Waterfront Committee and the author of the board’s resolution, recalled past major decisions “sprung” on the board by EDC, such as the initial plan for a 650-foot tower on the site (later reduced to 496 feet, then abandoned), and changes to the crowd capacity of a rooftop performance venue atop the new Pier 17 mall (another Howard Hughes development) that swelled from some 700 to 4,000 people.

“They do things behind the scenes, behind closed doors and they do not inform the public about what’s going on.” Goldstein said. “They treat our elected officials in the exact same way.”

Now, he and others see a chance to change that before the next decision is made on the New Market site.

“We need to find a future use for this space and whether it’s to retain the building, to replace the building, to have no building,” said Michael Kramer, a member of Save Our Seaport and a vocal critic of the Howard Hughes Corp. at the Seaport. “That is really why we want to have a Seaport Working Group.”