Howard Hughes Corp. to Begin 'Workshops' on Seaport Master Plan

Howard Hughes Corp. bought 250 Water Street, now a parking lot, for $185 million. Milstein Properties, the former owner, was stymied for years in its effort to build a residential tower on the site. Photo: Tribeca Trib

Sep. 16, 2019

Talks are set to begin on future developments at the South Street Seaport.

In a series of workshops, closed to the public, the Howard Hughes Corp. will be seeking a wishlist for the district from invited neighborhood stakeholders, such as community board members, elected officials and parent leaders from nearby schools. Also on the table: the kinds of new development and redevelopment of Seaport properties that the groups would want to see—or are willing to accept.

In June, Howard Hughes Corp. hired Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to run the workshops, the first one to take place this month.

Over the years, Community Board 1 has complained about the piecemeal way that the developer has revealed its plans for the Seaport. “This master planning process is finally happening,” CB1 member Paul Goldstein said at a meeting of the board’s Land Use, Zoning and Cultural Committee last week. “The community board has been asking for it for years.”

Central to the talks is the future of the 250 Water Street site, now a parking lot on the block bordered by Pearl, Peck Slip and Beekman, that Hughes Corp. purchased last year for $180 million. The company says it so far has no proposal for the site. But current zoning, achieved by Community Board 1 in 2003 following a hard-fought downzoning effort, limits a future building’s size to about 12 stories and 290,000 square feet. That makes future plans for 250 Water Street ripe for zoning variance dealmaking with local groups and elected officials. 

Saul Scherl, a Howard Hughes executive vice president, has mentioned a laundry list of Seaport area improvements that could serve as bargaining chips: the Peck Slip School could use an auditorium; Pier 16 and Titanic Park require fixing up; the city wants to complete the esplanade between Pier 17 and the Brooklyn Bridge; there’s the demand for below-market-rate housing; and the financially struggling South Street Seaport Museum needs a savior.

“We’ve looked at all the different areas that we think the community would like to see developed, or like to see refurbished, or like to see done to,” Scherl told the CB1 committee last week.

Howard Hughes has been building and renovating more than 450,000 square feet of space in the Seaport, including the Pier 17 mall and event venue, since taking over a long-term ground lease on the city-owned properties in 2010. Facing fierce community opposition, it abandoned its plan in 2015 to build a tower on the city-owned site of the New Market Building, first proposed to be 650 feet, then reduced to 496 feet. More recently the developer has been on a friendlier footing with the community, though it is facing opposition from some in the area who fear the release of buried toxins from a former thermometer factory at the 250 Water Street site.

In the meantime, there will be periodic updates to the community board on the planned closed-door meetings, Diana Switaj, CB1’s director of planning and land use, told the committee. And, said Scherl, “if we thought we would need a separate meeting for the whole community, we would be happy to do that.”

The first workshop is scheduled for Sept. 26.