On Tuesday evening I attended a meeting of Community Board 1 at Southbridge Towers. The subject of the meeting was to allow Howard Hughes Company to present a comprehensive plan for the final use by Hughes and the public of the reconstructed glass cube Pier 7 including its large roof space involving traffic control, security and environmental music sound pollution.
I realized eventually that the large number of standees around the rear of the room were not from from the community, local organizations or politicians, but organized to speak on behalf of Hughes’ elaborate pier 7 plans and construction of the roof to accommodate four thousand revelers or concert goers, as well as local people at other times in lesser numbers. With coordinated audio-video screening to accompany the speakers ranging from company provider engineers, a local police contact, Howard Hughes was using mass marketing to sell an important segment of its business plan to the locals. There were over ten speakers and I began to feel like the boy in The Emperors New Clothes.
The problem for me and I hope all non-business attendees also realized throughout this endlessly impressive plan was to vividly demonstrate once more that Howard Hughes is a huge real estate developer. It is only interested in making a huge fortune from the 56 year lease, a gift from the EDC whom outrageously gave them at $3.50 a square foot, worth hundreds. The contradiction again is that the company had the right plan in the wrong place since the South Street Seaport Seaport district and Museum are a treasured site of New York City’s seaport historical beginnings and a reason why tourists from all over the world have visited it until Hurricane Sandy. It is not a business.
The former and current Mayor’s office in their entrepreneurial zeal have decided not to support this historical treasure, but throw it to the powerful lobbying real estate business predators now making the city only habitable by the protected poor and wealthy.
From the beginning of Hughes’ control it became obvious that what it said and then contradicted, acted often in violation of regulations and agreement, was to eliminate “Historical” in the district. Actions speak much louder than company manipulating public relations words when they almost immediately announced tearing down the old pier 17 with its imaginative interior atrium with circular access to radiating corridors of businesses of all kinds from food, galleries, clothes with doorways to outside circular walks and astounding views on every level, always busy until Sandy.
Then Hughes built a multi iPic movie complex that was essentially a private club in a Lower East Side desperate for a public cinema, where this one excluded children, discouraged seniors, did not advertise its offerings anywhere. During the summer it turned Seaport streets into beach chairs and umbrellas with some meaningless, loud music and outdoor games. Hughes finally lost its struggle to build a 50-60 story building tower and together with the EDC deliberately let the historical TIN building’s underpinning rot, unrepaired, now claiming they have to tear it down. They also proposed to move the South Street Seaport Museum to a building on Pier 16 and turn the priceless Schermerhorn Row into low cost housing.
Never once has the Hughes corporation used the word historical in mentioning its plans because their actions tell us they want to turn the Seaport Historic District into a lucrative upscale mall and calling the area an Historic District without a South Street Seaport. The wisdom and truth of history instructs and inspires us to uphold our proud enlightening traditions especially during these days of partisan government where actions motivated by greed beyond need could lead to chaos. I believe in New York City we are still a democracy and going right to the Mayor’s office like a Minuteman where the ultimate responsibility really lies will prevent further destruction.