On Oct 22, 2020, the Howard Hughes Corp. (HHC) issued a Press Release to reveal its latest “visionary” project for its 250 Water St lot, located within the South Street Seaport Historic District.
In this latest iteration, HHC has now downsized from prior super-tall ambitions to just middling height as skyscrapers go these days, with its 2- 470ft towers – albeit still way off the mark in light of the 120ft height max in the historic area, but obviously viewed by HHC as a “compromise” gesture to win over recalcitrant parties.
HHC is promising all sorts of community benefits to lock in needed approvals from elected officials and city agencies, chief among them:
- “Saving” the Seaport Museum with some funding, viewed in an HHC internal document as a means of providing “political cover” (refer: HHC NY Region 2020 Budget Presentation – October 2019 slide)
- Including some “affordable” housing in the bargain – which is now actually required of any zoning upgrade.
Some of the key actions required to make HHC’s vision a reality:
- NYC Landmarks signoff that a 470 ft building in the Seaport is appropriate to the scale and character of the area
- Zoning amendment to allow for HHC’s latest proposed 470 ft tall structure in a protected 120 ft height limited area
- Sell-off of the Seaport’s publicly owned air rights to HHC, with the HHC caveat that it could use the rights at its 250 Water St site within the historic area. But this buts up against the intent in the original 1970’s Special South St. Seaport Transfer mechanism to use Seaport air rights as a tool to save and protect the Seaport through their sale and use only outside the district.
The big secret in all this – revealed in HHC’s internal 2019 budget doc – is that HHC needs to make good on its overpriced S180MM buy of the 250 Water St lot, and if it can get all needed entitlements and approvals in place pre-development, it plans to sell 250Water, target – 2022.
It is now in full public relations mode to overcome Seaport advocates’ unwillingness to accept HHC’s false premise that the only way to save one public asset is to sacrifice another: HHC’s offer of Seaport Museum funding, for a carve-out to HHC of almost 10% the historic district for a tower that doesn’t belong there, and would set a bad precedent for not only the Seaport but other protected areas.
In its Strategic Plan of 2019, the Seaport Coalition proposed several ways to finance Seaport needs, including those of the museum, that would not undermine the very area it is trying to save, and not surrender control of our public assets to inappropriate private development.
The Coalition has reached out to elected officials and city-agencies, and they are well aware of the Coalition’s position. Whether dangling $$$ from a private developer holds sway remains to be seen.
Obviously, this fight for the soul of the Seaport is not over.