Howard Hughes Corporation Proposes Scaled-Back Towers for Seaport Site, Along with Package of Amenities
A view from the Brooklyn Bridge of the two new residential towers that Howard Hughes Corporation plans for 250 Water Street.
The Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC) has unveiled its plans for 250 Water Street (a 1.1-acre parking lot in the Seaport District), including high-rise towers, more than 100 units of affordable housing, and a plan to build a new headquarters for the South Street Seaport Museum. This announcement has inspired both enthusiastic support and fierce criticism.
The full-block site, bounded by Beekman, Pearl, and Water Streets, as well as Peck Slip, has been the focus of debate and speculation ever since HHC purchased it from the Milstein family of real estate developers, for $180 million in 2018. Planning for the parcel was complicated the following year, when HHC disclosed after purchasing the site that environmental tests indicated contamination with mercury, lead, and other toxins—remnants from its historical use as the location for a thermometer factory in the 1800s. This led to the parcel becoming part of the State’s Brownfield Cleanup Program. The cleanup’s primary investigation phase wrapped up in early September.
In the two years that followed, HHC has hosted three community meetings and additional pop-up events, drawing hundreds of participants, at which it discussed possible development scenarios and solicited feedback. Initial concepts for 250 Water Street included a tower nearly 1,000 feet tall, which spurred vigorous criticism.
In the vision revealed last Thursday, HHC plans to build two towers, reaching as high as 470 feet. These are slated to include more than 100 units of permanently affordable housing, as well as 260 market-rate condominium apartments. Both towers will sit upon a five-story podium, designed to reflect the context of surrounding structures, with similar heights and materials.
In a bid for community support, HHC is proposing (in addition to the 100-plus deeply affordable housing units—which will be priced at 40 percent of Area Median Income) to provide a nearby site (at the corner of John and South streets) for a new, fully designed building to house the beleaguered South Street Seaport Museum, as well as $50 million in funding, which will provide a recurring revenue stream for the Museum and subsidize renovations to allow its reopening for the first time since Hurricane Sandy, in 2012.
The company is further offering a community space (the size and purpose of which have yet to be determined) at 250 Water Street. Finally, HHC is willing to design, fund, and build improvements to the “play street” in front of the Peck Slip School (across the street from the 250 Water site), which is closed to traffic during school hours, when it functions as a de facto schoolyard.
HHC also estimates that the project will generate more than $1.8 billion in economic impact for the City and State, while creating more than 2,000 permanent jobs and roughly the same number of temporary, construction jobs.
Even so, the obstacles to implementing this plan will be considerable. It will require approval from both the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), because the site lies within the legally protected South Street Seaport Historic District, and the Economic Development Corporation (EDC)—a non-profit entity that negotiates strategic partnerships on behalf of City Hall, designed to harness private-sector resources to public projects, and thus foster economic growth. It was the EDC that leased large tracts of City-owned land in the Seaport neighborhood to HHC, designating the firm to lead a planned transformation of the historic community.
Moreover, because current zoning allows for buildings no more than 120 feet tall at 250 Water Street, HHC will need both variances and air rights transfers from nearby lots, such as Pier 17 and the Tin Building, (both of which the firm has redeveloped in recent years). And because these air rights will come from properties that HHC leases from EDC (rather than owning them outright), their transfer will be subject to procurement and approval from the City. In addition to all of these hurdles, the company will also have to navigate the rigorous Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) required for zoning variances and the disposition of publicly owned land.
Finally, HHC will have to run a gauntlet of community opposition. Local critics were able to scuttle a 2013 plan from the firm for a 50-story tower on the site of the New Market Building, and in the years since have been vociferous in the opposition to other development plans floated by HHC. In November, 2019, Community Board 1 (CB1) enacted a resolution that, “reiterates our very strong support for retaining the existing zoning in the Seaport Historic District, which ensures that new buildings maintain the low scale character of this very special area.”
The parking lot at 250 Water Street, which Howard Hughes Corporations hopes to develop, where an environmental cleanup is underway to remove toxins such as mercury and lead.
The new plan for 250 Water Street has nonetheless attracted a slew of endorsements. Former CB1 chair Catherine McVay Hughes says, “at a time when New York City is under so much stress from the pandemic and the economic downturn, this project is an exciting vote of confidence in the future, bringing affordable housing—a top priority for our community for many years—as well as long-term viability for the Seaport Historic District and Museum, and critical brownfield remediation, while removing a surface parking lot with legacy fossil-fuel infrastructure that has been an eyesore and a drag on community redevelopment for decades.”
Former CB1 vice chair Paul Hovitz says, “as a longtime resident of Southbridge Towers and someone who has been active in the community for decades, this exciting new plan is the first to incorporate a viable fiscal support mechanism for our cherished South Street Seaport Museum, the cultural center of this historic neighborhood. With a design appropriate to its upland location, this proposal will create a safe, more unified pedestrian experience for those of us who live nearby. And critically, it will bring the first mandatory affordable housing to CB1.”
Jessica Lappin, president of the Downtown Alliance, says, “the parking lot at 250 Water has long been a void, but also an opportunity: to invest in our local economy, to create jobs, and to build sorely needed affordable housing in CB1. The development proposed for the site is an opportunity that needs close and serious consideration. This plan would also bring stability to the South Street Seaport Museum, one of the area’s essential cultural institutions.”
Captain Jonathan Boulware, president and CEO of the South Street Seaport Museum, says, “this proposal not only includes the Museum, but speaks to heart of what is necessary to make it sustainable, by creating a symbiotic relationship between the Museum and the surrounding Historic District. In that sense, it’s like a life preserver.”
He recalls that, “the Museum didn’t reopen for two years,” after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, “and then we scheduled a huge gala in 2008, but the economic crisis forced us to cancel that plan, and several of the sponsoring firms went out of business. A few years later, we were swamped by Hurricane Sandy. This was supposed to be the year when we were going to stride forward with momentum we have been building, but then the pandemic hit. We seem always to be on the cutting edge of crisis.”
Captain Boulware adds, “there is an economic development aspect that incorporates recovery from COVID and the financial crisis, which reminds me of the first economic measures after September 11—affordable housing, the economic activity that the project will bring, plus a revitalized Seaport Museum. These are a potent formula.”
“We actually did not support HHC on their development proposal for the New Market Building,” he reflects. “But we do support this one, because it is sensible and compelling.”
A rendering of the new home for the South Street Seaport Museum (at the corner of John and South Streets) that Howard Hughes Corporation proposes to fund and provide land for.
But HHC’s plan for 250 Water Street has also drawn sharp criticism. A statement from the Seaport Coalition (an umbrella group that includes Save Our Seaport, residents of Southbridge Towers, and local parents who formed Children First, out of environmental concerns related to toxins at the site) said, “[we] are by no means anti-development. We simply ask that existing zoning protections be respected, and that the low-rise built environment is deemed ‘appropriate,’ to accurately reflect where New York began in the South Street Seaport Historic District.”
The group adds, “it is unfortunate that some of our elected officials now seem to be party to a ruse that pits the survival of the South Street Seaport Museum, held hostage as political cover for corporate greed.”
State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou says, “it’s disingenuous that HHC claims that their proposal has been shaped by elected officials and community engagement, when no formal plan has ever been presented to us for input. Every iteration of potential designs has violated the zoning limits, design guidelines, and principles agreed to by a coalition of elected officials, community organizations, and stakeholders. This plan is no different. Most importantly, it violates the 120 feet height limitation that HHC has been reminded of and ignored time and time again.”
Ms. Niou continues, “HHC needs to come back to the community for more engagement and actually listen to create a plan that meets the needs of our community. And this current plan neither includes a large enough percentage of affordable housing, nor does it provide deeply affordable housing that matches the need we see in our community. This proposal, in its current form, is a non-starter and is not what our community needs.”
Other elected officials appear to be reserving judgment. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said (in a reference to the upcoming ULURP review of the proposal), “I’m looking forward to seeing all the details and participating in the public review process.” City Council member Margaret Chin echoed this perspective, saying, “I look forward to reviewing all details of the proposal and participating in the public engagement process.”
The next step in this process is likely to be a hearing before the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which is now tentatively slated for December.
TODAY IN HISTORY
City Hall subway station, was designed to be the showpiece of the new subway system with its elegant platform and mezzanine featured Guastavino tile, skylights, colored glass tilework and brass chandeliers.
Contract One, Station One
The Jewel in the Crown
Just below the surface of City Hall Park sits one of New York’s architectural gems. Built during the City Beautiful movement, its design sought to uplift the spirits of New Yorkers on their daily commute.
City Hall Loop station—Contract One, Station One—was the flagship of New York’s first subway and the focus of the international press on October 27, 1904, when Mayor George McClellan connected the Tiffany-designed motorman’s handle to propel the first train north to its endpoint on 145th Street and Broadway.
The design of the other twenty-seven stations it stopped at that afternoon was dictated by the practical needs of subway efficiency—the architect’s only role was to choose the tile work that would cover the structural columns and walls. But the station below City Hall Park is different. Here, design and structure are one in the same.
Architects Heins and LaFarge were building the great Episcopal cathedral of St. John the Divine up on 112th Street when they got the subway gig, and they tapped into their best artisans to help design the unique station eight miles south.
Rafael Guastavino arrived in the United States from his native Spain in 1883 with a new way of building arches and vaults—glued-together layers of thin tiles instead of heavy granite blocks.
Guastavino arches and vaults are not only works of art (think Grand Central Terminal’s Oyster Bar), they are self-supporting. There are no columns in the City Hall station because the visually stunning arches also carry the heavy loads. There was no need to decorate a structure because here, the structure is the decoration.
Its unique platform is a tight curve—a necessity because the turnaround track had to complete its loop without hitting the foundations of City Hall to the north and the huge courthouse that sat at the south end of today’s park.
City Hall Loop is all about the arch, from the curved track and platform to Guastavino’s trademark herringbone-pattern vaults that cover the upper control room, where tickets—never tokens—were purchased from an ornate oak booth. Brass chandeliers combined with leaded-glass skylights, still visible along the cobblestone street that passes in front of City Hall, to light the underground space.
And while sitting on an oak bench waiting for the train, you could view decorative plaques designed by Gutzon Borglum—who not only contributed more than seventy sculptures to the cathedral uptown but would soon move on to carve those four faces on Mount Rushmore.
But all things change, and while this station was the place to be on opening day in 1904, it ultimately proved to be a little-used, inconvenient, out-of-the-way, single-track station, and on December 31, 1945, it was closed for good.
You can visit the station today through tours led by the New York Transit Museum, or catch a glimpse of it by boarding the southbound 6 train at the Brooklyn Bridge–City Hall station as it travels the same loop it has for well over a hundred years to begin its northbound journey.
312 – Constantine the Great is said to have received his famous Vision of the Cross.
1275 – Traditional founding of the city of Amsterdam.
1553 – Michael Servetus was a Spanish theologian, physician, cartographer and was the first to correctly describe the function of pulmonary circulation. He participated in the Protestant Reformation and was condemned by Catholics and Protestants and arrested in Geneva and burnt at the stake as a heretic by order of the city’s Protestant governing council.
1838 – Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs issues the Extermination Order,which orders all Mormons to leave the state or be exterminated.
Claiming that Latter-day Saints had committed open and avowed defiance of the law after the Battle of Crooked River, a clash between Latter-day Saints and the Missouri State Guard, Governor Boggs directed that “the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace—their outrages are beyond all description”.
1904 – The first underground New York City Subway line opens, almost 36 years after the opening of the first elevated line in New York City, The fare was 5 cents and on the first day the trains carried over 150,000 passengers
1914 – The British lose their first battleship of World War I: The British super-dreadnought battleship HMS Audacious (23,400 tons) is sunk off Tory Island, north-west of Ireland, by a minefield laid by the armed German merchant-cruiser Berlin. The loss was kept an official secret in Britain until November 14 1918 (three days after the end of the war). The sinking was witnessed and photographed by passengers on RMS Olympic sister ship of RMS Titanic.
1936 – Mrs Wallis Simpson files for divorce which would eventually allow her to marry King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom, thus forcing his abdication from the throne.
1961 – NASA tests the first Saturn I rocket in Mission Saturn-Apollo 1.
1962 – Major Rudolf Anderson of the United States Air Force becomes the only direct human casualty of the Cuban Missile Crisis when his U-2 reconnaissance airplane is shot down in Cuba by a Soviet-supplied SA-2 Guideline surface-to-air missile.
1973 – A 1.4 kg chondrite-type meteorite strikes in Cañon City, Colorado.
1988 – Ronald Reagan suspends construction of the new U.S. Embassy in Moscow because of Soviet listening devices in the building structure.
1782 – Niccolò Paganini, Italian violinist and composer (d. 1840)
1811 – Isaac Singer, founded the Singer Corporation (d. 1875)
1858 – Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1919)
1908 – Lee Krasner, American painter (d. 1984)
1914 – Dylan Thomas, Welsh poet and playwright (d. 1953)
1923 – Roy Lichtenstein, American painter and sculptor (d. 1997)
1926 – H. R. Haldeman, Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff (d. 1993)
1932 – Sylvia Plath, American poet, novelist, and short story writer (d. 1963)
1939 – John Cleese, English actor, comedian, screenwriter and producer
1940 – John Gotti, American mob boss (d. 2002)
1963 – Marla Maples, American model and actress
1505 – Ivan III of Russia (b. 1440)
1927 – Squizzy Taylor, Australian gangster (b. 1888)
2013 – Lou Reed, singer-songwriter, guitarist, producer, and actor (b. 1942)
Credits include wikipedia and other internet sources
I was sad to read in the Broadsheet that Pier A closed down. I hope the New York City government will help the owners of the restaurants reopen as soon as possible.
I believe I had the last large event at Pier A before it had to close because of COVID-19. On March 7, I had my Bar Mitzvah ceremony and dinner reception and party there. It is a beautiful setting, with views of the Statue of Liberty. The staff was very friendly and organized. Everyone told me that Pier A made my day even more special.
Unlike most restaurant closings, this one is a matter for the public and for the city government. Pier A was built in the 1800s for the officials who ran the docks until developers worked with the city to convert the historic building into a restaurant complex. As you reported, COVID-19 meant that the restaurant owners could not afford the rent or to keep the great staff employed.
When COVID-19 is finally over, I hope the city will do everything it can to help them open again, including making the rent lower. It would be terrible if Pier A were vacant again for decades.
To the editor:
There are thousands of homeless living on the streets of this city. Some of the encampments they have created for themselves on our sidewalks are extensive. Cold weather is approaching, they need safe places to stay but no neighborhoods welcome them. Certainly giving them shelter in a mainly business district is preferable to housing in a residential area among children.
Women continue to be underrepresented at every level across organizations, according to McKinsey & Co and LeanIn.Org’s annual Women in the Workplace report, which looks at data and insights collected from nearly 600 companies since 2015. But there has been some progress: the number of women in C-suite positions has been on the rise. At LMHQ’s October Women’s Breakfast, McKinsey & Co Partner Merlina Manocaran will lead a conversation with top female leaders in the fields of law, real estate, telecommunications and finance about how these findings manifest in real life and the steps we can take to encourage systemic change in the corporate sector. Free
Exercise in disguise! Join in on the fun featuring easy-to-follow Latin dance choreography while working on your balance, coordination and range of motion. Come prepared for enthusiastic instruction, a little strength training and a lot of fun. Participants are expected to bring their own equipment: weights, water bottle, hand towel etc. Program is first come, first served for up to 15 participants. Masks and contact information required upon arrival. Spatial parameters will be set. Participants must remain 6 ft apart for the duration of the program. All programs will be held in accordance with New York State reopening guidance. At the Irish Hunger Memorial. Free
Celebrate the nature found in our beloved BPC parks. Pick up a self-guided worksheet that will invite you to tour the gardens investigating plants and trees, as well as the pollinating insects and birds that visit the parks of BPC. Participants are expected to bring their own pencils and clipboards. Program is first come, first served for up to 20 children with accompanying adults. Masks and contact information required upon arrival. Activity is self-guided. Participants must maintain six feet of physical distance between households. All programs will be held in accordance with New York State reopening guidance. Rockefeller Park. Free
Debate Defends Democracy is a virtual discussion of Constitutional issues and the Bill of Rights presented by the Conservancy at Federal Hall. Federal Hall, on Wall Street in New York City, is the site where George Washington was inaugurated, the First Congress met, and the Bill of Rights was enacted for ratification by the states. Fundamental Constitutional issues about individual liberties and the power of government that the Founders sought to resolve in 1789-90 when New York City was the capital of the United States have renewed urgency today. Free
Outside of Battery Park City, there aren’t many places in Lower Manhattan to drop off your compost material. But now, downtowners can bring their vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds and egg shells to the Bowling Green Greenmarket on Tuesday mornings. After 10am, the material will be picked up by Earth Matter staffers and brought to a composting facility on Governors Island.
Composting—separating organic material from garbage to be recycled and broken down into a nutrient-rich soil enhancer instead of decaying in landfill—is one of the easiest ways for individuals to take meaningful action in addressing climate change. And composting is easy: it’s not messy or smelly, and you don’t need a special bucket (although Bed Bath & Beyond does sell such things). Just keep a bag in your freezer and add to it each day.
The Earth Matter compost program accepts fruits, vegetables, coffee, dried flowers and plants, as well as eggshells, tea, nuts, bread, grains and pasta. Please, no meat, fish, dairy, pet waste, wood, paper, metal, glass, plastic, diapers, or medical waste.
Enoteca on the Hudson
City Winery Opens at Pier 57
While hundreds of Lower Manhattan restaurants have shuttered as a result of the pandemic coronavirus (and dozens of these have announced that they will never reopen), one operator has gamely chosen to open his doors for the first time, instead. Last week, City Winery debuted its new flagship location, on Pier 57, within the Hudson River Park (near the intersection of West 15th Street and the waterfront). To read more…
A Guide for the Perplexed
A Veteran Poll Worker and Community Leader Reflects on a Moment When the Franchise Is More Confounding Than Usual
Longtime Battery Park City resident Bob Schneck has always looked for ways to serve—whether as a member of Community Board 1, or a poll worker or an activist for more than a decade. To read more…
CB1 Takes Aim at Illegal Parking and Seizure of Public Space by Government Employees
In a pair of resolutions enacted at its September meeting, Community Board 1 is voicing frustration at the rampant local abuse of parking privileges by government officials, especially police officers.
In the first measure, CB1 notes that there are more than 125,000 placards (credentials displayed in a windshield, identifying the vehicle as belonging to a City employee) in circulation, which public officials use not only for official business, but “for commutation or personal outings.”
These are precious days for monarch butterflies embarking on three-thousand-mile-trips in their annual migration to Mexico—and for humans privileged to see them. With Lower Manhattan on the monarch flyway, the gardeners of the Battery Park City Authority, Liberty Community Gardens, Hudson River Park and the Battery Conservancy have planted milkweed in recent years, an offering to these delicate yet amazingly hardy creatures, who rely on this plant’s nectar for strength and nourishment.
The Harbor House Restaurant on Pier A has shut down, with no definite plan to reopen. A spokesman for the Battery Park City Authority says that agency, “is working with all relevant parties to determine a path forward.”
This distress (which predates the restaurant-industry woes triggered by the pandemic coronavirus and the economic slowdown that followed) was highlighted in December, 2018. To read more…
A Lament for Local Luncheonettes
Losses and Closures Mount Among Downtown Dining Spots
A new report from State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli documents the impact of the ongoing pandemic coronavirus on the restaurant industry in Lower Manhattan.
In this report, Mr. DiNapoli finds, there were 1,981 operating restaurants and bars before the pandemic began, which places Lower Manhattan behind only the Chelsea/Clinton/Midtown Business District PUMA area, with 2,661 such establishments. (Together, these two areas account for nearly 40 percent of the City’s restaurant jobs.) To read more…