City Calls a Halt to Developer's South Street Seaport Plans

Rendering of Howard Hughes Corp.'s development plans for the South Street Seaport, which includes a 50-story tower and marina. A new mall on Pier 17 has already been approved. Rendering: SHOP Architects/Howard Hughes Corp.

Jan. 29, 2014

UPDATED 1/29/14

See note below.

“Howard Hughes Corporation’s plan to date will not go forward as presented.”

That was the announcement from Community Board 1 chair Catherine McVay Hughes, who told the board at its monthly meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 28, that an agreement had been worked out to give the community a say in the Hughes Corp.’s redevelopment plans for the South Street Seaport, including a widely opposed 600-foot-high residential tower.

That agreement emerged after city officials “strongly encouraged” the Hughes Corp. to allow the community to contribute to the planning process, according to a spokeswoman for the city’s Economic Development Corp., the agency in charge of leasing the city-owned property to the developer.

Hughes said the task force, to include community members, elected officials, the South Street Seaport Mu­seum and the EDC, will weigh in on the plans before the city-mandated public review process begins later this year.

“There are still a lot of details that need to be worked out,” Hughes said in a telephone interview, “but this is an issue that many people are very passionate about. Right now, the key component is getting the task force in place.”

New Amsterdam Market founder Robert LaValva, a leading critic of the Hughes Corp.’s plans, recently co-launched a campaign called JustPress­, to halt the Seaport planning process until the community is involved. He said in a statement that he views the agreement as “a complete victory for the Seaport and East River waterfront communities, as well as the city at large.”

In concert with elected officials, he said, he looks forward to “charting the right course for the future of New York’s oldest commercial district.”

The Hughes Corp.’s plans, apart from the tower, include restoring and adding a floor to the landmarked Tin Building, installing a 10,000-square-foot food market and constructing a new marina. The developer has said that the tower was necessary to pay for needed infrastructure and other improvements to the area. 

In a statement emailed to the Trib, a Hughes Corp. spokesman said the developer is “moving forward” with its proposed plan for the long-term revitalization of the Seaport “in collaboration with the community and stakeholders.”

“The process has not stopped,” the spokesman said, “and we are discussing the formation of a community advisory board as a continuation of that approach to complete our plans before we begin the upcoming ULURP [Uniform Land Use Review Procedure] process.”

The land use review, expected to begin this fall, includes input from the com­munity board, borough president and City Planning Commission before being voted on by the City Council.

In a written statement, Kate Blumm, a spokeswoman for the EDC, said that her agency “strongly encouraged the Hughes Corp. to work with local stakeholders to solicit their input and understand their concerns.”

“We’re encouraged by the steps the developer is taking in concert with elected officials to more formally structure community involvement,” Blumm said, “and we look forward to seeing the dialogue evolve. To date, the process is moving as anticipated along the timeline previously agreed upon.”

The agreement to bring community members, elected officials and others into the planning process follows a CB1-sponsored public forum on the Seaport's future, held Jan. 13, that was attended by more than 200 people. The gathering was largely an opportunity for opponents of the Hughes Corp.'s plans to speak out and, for some, to offer alternate visions for the area.

Hughes said that more details on the new task force will be available next week. The agreement, she said, was worked out in collaboration with Councilwoman Margaret Chin, Borough President Gale Brewer and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

"This has been a huge milestone," she said.

This story was updated Wednesday, Jan. 29 to include responses from spokespersons from the Economic Development Corp., Howard Hughes Corp. and from Robert LaValva.