250 Water St – Gaming the public and elected officials to gain approvals for a tower that the Howard Hughes Corp. may never build?

The Howard Hughes Corp. (HHC) held 3 stakeholder workshops between Sept 2019 and March 2020 where it presented its privately-owned 250 Water St site as an opportunity for all sorts of community benefits, if only the community could be persuaded to trade off long-standing historic district protections so that HHC could build a tower within the Seaport. But spanning the same period that HHC was promoting its public plan, it was presenting an internal budget document to its NY Region – Oct 2019 – which reveals a different plan to sell 250 Water – as soon as 2022. As a key slide shows, if HHC is able to get pre-build entitlements needed for a tower, it intends to sell 250 Water – as soon as 2022, leaving the fate of an actual build to another developer. The Seaport Coalition – an alliance of several groups that came together in 2019 around plans for yet another inappropriate build in the historic South St Seaport – held a public meeting on Sept. 17, 2020 (via Zoom) to provide an update on key events that have taken place over the course of the covid lockdown, centered around issues that HHC’s plans for 250 Water brought to the fore. The full presentation provided an update on the Brownfield cleanup of the toxic wastes under 250 Water St; issues around air rights; the city required steps that the developer must follow in its attempt to gain approvals for a tower on the site; what the coalition has been doing to protect the seaport from inappropriate development; and how the public can help.

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South Street Seaport – At risk yet again – but not from another Hurricane

    In June 2018, the Howard Hughes Corp. (HHC) bought the 250 Water St. site (currently a parking lot) that lies within the South Street Seaport Historic District, and comes with landmark district protection and a contextual zoning height limit of 120 feet.+ After years of a segmented development approach, HHC – with visions of a tower soaring skyward over the Seaport – now decided that it was time to engage the community in its master planning for the Seaport.  To buy support for a tower on the 250 Water St. site,  HHC was ready with offers of any number of the usual public benefits in exchange.     In late summer 2018, preservation advocates, Seaport area residents, and parents and representatives of nearby schools came together over concerns regarding the development of the 250 Water St. site and the surrounding Seaport area, and the current Seaport Coalition was formed.     With the future of public assets again at stake, coalition members decided that the public should be the ones guiding public asset development, not filtered through a developer’s private agenda. This led to the release in November 2019 of the Seaport Coalition Strategic Plan.     The plan draws on and incorporates elements of a long history of advocacy for the Seaport as an invaluable public asset, with the bottom line for 250 Water St – 120 ft.         HHC had a tower in its hands after it assembled its 80 South St Development Site in 2014-15.  In 2016, it let it slip away, sold to another developer.          Some pages from the Seaport Coalition Plan are attached.

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City of Water Day 2019

City of Water Day, July 13, 2019 –  the City’s waterfronts were bustling on this hot summer Saturday. The Con Edison Cardboard Kayak Race took place at Manhattan’s Brooklyn Bridge Beach after teams put together what they hoped would be seaworthy vessels.  Once again, the event provided the public with the opportunity to walk on the sand near the water’s edge – promoting access that advocates have long fought for. At the historic Seaport, displays emphasized the importance of protecting our waters  – from reestablishing oyster beds in the rivers (Billion Oyster Project) to replacing plastic water bottles with eco-friendly ‘Boxed Water’.  [event supported by South St. Seaport Museum, Waterfront Alliance, Con Edison, Howard Hughes Corp., and others – see cityofwaterday.org]

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