It's Final: Developer Wins Legal Battle for Tower in Seaport Historic District

A still from animated renderings shows a view of the planned tower at 250 Water Street as seen from Peck Slip. Howard Hughes Corp./SOM

May. 28, 2024

The long fight over a proposed residential tower in the South Street Seaport Historic District ended this month with a judge’s decision in favor of developer Howard Hughes Corp.

The New York State Court of Appeals on May 21 upheld the Appellate Court’s ruling that sided with the Hughes Corp., allowing construction to begin on the $850 million, 324-foot-high project.

Calling the block-sized site, formerly a parking lot, “an underutilized part of the Seaport,” Howard Hughes CEO David O’Reilly said in a statement that the decision “marks a major win for Lower Manhattan and the city” and paves the way for “a vibrant, mixed-use project that will be a significant contribution to the neighborhood.”

The Seaport Coalition, a group of three local organizations, fought the project, saying that its approval by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) was influenced by promised financial support for the struggling South Street Seaport Museum and by “direct coordination” between the de Blasio administration, the Landmarks Commission, and Howard Hughes lawyers and lobbyists. Claiming a lack of impartiality by the commission, the Seaport Coalition said in a statement that the LPC “cannot fulfill its responsibility of safeguarding our historic treasures…We found ourselves defending the very agency that should be defending us.”

A State Supreme Court judge’s January 2023 decision, agreeing with the petitioners and ordering a temporary stop to construction, was reversed by the Appellate Court. The Seaport Coalition filed a motion in June 2023 to reargue the case or to appeal the decision to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals denied that motion.

The project will include nearly 400 apartments, 80 of them below-market rate, with a 5-story base of office, retail and community uses. Excavation of the site began in 2022 and removal of toxic soil has been completed.

Hughes Corp. bought 250 Water Street in 2018 for $180 million from Milstein Properties, a developer that had repeatedly failed over the years to win approvals for a tall building on the site. Its attempts had led CB1 and others to fight a winning battle back in 2003 to downzone the site to a maximum building height of 120 feet and, they hoped, thwart any future attempts for a project that was out of scale with buildings in the historic district.

Twenty-one years later, on May 21, what little remained of those hopes finally came to an end.