Towering Concerns

Community leaders fear that the number of apartments contained in a building this large could overwhelm local infrastructure – particularly schools.
The on-again/off-again skyscraper proposed for 80 South Street, in the Seaport District may be on again.
In a story first reported by online development newsletter New York YIMBY, renderings have surfaced that indicate a residential tower more than 120 stories tall may be on the drawing board. Such a building would have a roof height more than 100 feet taller than that of One World Trade Center, although the planned structure will not match the height of the latter building’s ornamental spire.

China Oceanwide Holdings, the Hong Kong-based developer that spent nearly $400 million to acquire adjoining lots in the Seaport District in 2016, along with hundreds of thousands of square feet of air rights, received demolition permits for two structures at the site the following year. Several designs were circulated, and a massing study released, but there was little further activity related to the site for almost two years, a slowdown widely attributed to recent financial difficulties experienced by China Oceanwide.

The location, at 80 South Street (along the FDR Drive, between Fletcher and John Streets), encompasses a footprint of 8,128 square feet. It was purchased by the Howard Hughes Corporation (which is also in the midst of several development projects at the nearby South Street Seaport) in January, 2015, for $100 million. At the time, 80 South Street was zoned for up to 820,000 square feet of development. But the Hughes Corporation subsequently purchased several hundreds of thousands of square feet of unused air rights from adjacent properties and transferred them to the South Street lot. These additions brought the total developable space for the lot at 80 South Street to slightly more than one million square feet. (Given the size of the lot, erecting a structure that will enclose one million-plus square feet necessarily implies a tower more than 1,400 feet tall.) Moreover, this building could theoretically become even larger, if the developer agrees to include community benefits, such as a new school, or some affordable housing.

Even without such bonuses, however, current zoning regulations would permit more than 500,000 square feet of residential development within the tower, where (presumably) the rest of the space would be allocated to other uses, such as office space, retail, or a hotel.

Shortly after purchasing the site and assembling air rights, Howard Hughes began seeking a buyer for 80 South Street. Late in 2015, it reached a tentative agreement with China Oceanwide, at a price of $390 million. That sale was completed in early 2016. Records filed with the City by China Oceanwide indicate that the new owner planned at the time to erect a tower of more than 110 stories, that would be slightly more than 1,400 feet tall.

The new renderings do not name an architect of record for the planned structure, and are not accompanied by updated filings with City regulators. But this is the first new information China Oceanwide’s plans for the site in more than a year, and may indicate that what had been perceived as a dormant project is being revived once more.

New renderings of the residential tower planned for 80 South Street show a building with a roof height greater than that of One World Trade Center.
Whether Lower Manhattan civic infrastructure — the roster of assets, such as schools, parks, healthcare facilities, and transportation capacity — can accommodate the thousands of new residents who will likely live in such a building, and the thousands more who will report there for work each day, is a question that remains unanswered.

In a 2016 meeting of Community Board 1 (CB1), vice chair Paul Hovitz (who also co-chairs the Board’s Youth and Education Committee), noted that with the building planned for 80 South Street, “we’re looking at a 1,300 to 1,500 foot tower.” He added, “that building will have more than 500 apartments, and that will bring enough children in it to fill our new school all by itself.” (This was a reference to plans announced earlier in 2016, to create a new, public elementary school on Greenwich Street, in the Financial District, which will have 476 seats.)
Mr. Hovitz then asked City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who was attending the CB1 meeting as a guest speaker, “when will the City start forcing developers to kick into a school fund so that before they get a building permit, we can guarantee school seats for all of these people coming into the fastest growing residential neighborhood in New York City?”

Comptroller Stringer responded to Mr. Hovtiz, “I know how much you care about rational, responsible development. We have planned backwards as a City. We spend so much time thinking about tall buildings that we don’t think about how to build communities any more. We don’t think about how we build transportation infrastructure. We don’t think about the school population.”

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