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Neighbors: A Shorter South Street Seaport Tower Isn't Enough

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The epic battle over the SHoP-designed tower Howard Hughes Corporation wants to build at the base of Pier 17 lurched forward last night. The developer made a long-awaited private presentation to a group of community members and elected officials dubbed the Seaport Working Group, which has been tasked with collecting community feedback and issuing recommendations for the much-maligned tower. And it did include a change to the oft-berated proposal for the residential tower. That change: a reduction in height from 650 feet to 494 feet, and from 52 to 42 stories. But that move was not enough to convince Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (whose office hosted that meeting) or the Save Our Seaport organization (SOS) (which held a meeting several blocks away immediately following the presentation to gauge community response) and its sympathizers that the tower is now palatable for the area. UPDATE: SHoP Architects unveiled the design of the shorter tower.

"I question whether the proposal from Howard Hughes for a huge tower on the New Market site meets the Seaport Working Group's guidelines developed over many months of discussion with the community, urban planners and other stakeholders," Brewer said in a statement released Wednesday evening. "Historical context, building heights, and maintaining the vitality of the area are all elements which must be factored in to any final project in this crucial Manhattan neighborhood—the neighborhood where, in many ways, New York City began. As I've said before, building a tower at the South Street Seaport is like building a tower at Colonial Williamsburg."

Brewer and City Councilmember Margaret Chin, who also said she would not back the project, have requested that the Seaport Working Group meet again right after Thanksgiving to discuss the Hughes proposal.

"This evening we presented a revised plan that embraces the guidelines created by the Seaport Working Group. Our plan preserves the historic district, repairs crumbling infrastructure and delivers the benefits the community has called for: waterfront access, a middle school that could also serve as a community center, affordable housing, funding to save the Seaport Museum and tall ships, and a fresh food market, among other things," said HHC CEO David R. Weinreb in a statement. "The plan represents a more than $300 million investment in public benefits for Lower Manhattan, driven by the economic engine of a new residential building. We are proud to have the support of Lower Manhattan families and small business owners who know that the only way to truly save the South Street Seaport is to invest in its future. We are confident that as more residents learn about our plan, they will embrace it."

As for that proposal, Michael Kramer, who represents SOS in the Seaport Working Group, told the second, SOS-held meeting last night that it was 300 slides long, none of which were handed out to attendees. (Hence, they do not appear in this story, but stay tuned. UPDATE: Here are photos of a model of the redesigned tower, presented at SH0P's office Thursday morning.) The tower would have 150 market-rate condos, retail at its base, and three stories that would house a middle school, though at least one member of the audience felt that size would be inadequate. Kramer said the proposal included 60 to 70 units of off-site affordable housing, possibly at Schermerhorn Row. To say the crowd gasped at that would be an understatement. The Row is a really historic street and a beloved neighborhood spot.

The proposal also calls for moving the Tin Building 30 feet east to create a perimeter road between Beekman and Fulton streets, which would allow 10 glass pavilions below the FDR Drive. It also calls for a new building at the corner of John and South streets, which would be four stories tall on South and five stories tall on John.

Kramer said the South Street Seaport Museum has not entered into any agreement with Hughes. He said there was a proposal to put the museum in a 5,000-square-foot building on Pier 16, where it would, Hughes' words, serve as a "cultural steward."

The proposal also calls for a marina and esplanade that would run up to the Brooklyn Bridge and serve as a berth for visiting historic ships.

What wasn't in the proposal? Local resident Diane Harris Brown, who is part of SOS and the Seaport Working Group, but doesn't represent SOS in the Working Group, said HHC's concessions did not address pedestrian circulation or the idea of having a community center in the school. She did say that having a master plan is a "step in the right direction" (as opposed to piecemeal proposals for the area).

Those who were in the Working Group meeting were asked for the highs and lows of the proposal. That left them speechless. Eventually, fellow resident Paul Kefer, who, like Brown, is both the Working Group and is part of SOS but doesn't represent SOS there, said that Hughes put a lot of thought into the non-tower elements.

To say those who attended the SOS meeting were unhappy with the Hughes proposal would be putting it lightly. One woman called what they are doing a "Kabuki dance." Most of them were just very angry, or afraid of the development to come.

Stay tuned, as Hughes is expected to detail their proposal in a news conference today, which will hopefully contain renderings.
—Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.
· SHoP's Revised, Shorter South Street Seaport Tower, Revealed! [Curbed]
Howard Hughes Corp. Offers to Trim Height of Proposed Tower Near South Street Seaport
· Howard Hughes Corp. Offers to Trim Height of Proposed Tower Near South Street Seaport [WSJ]
· Uncertainty Surrounds Plans For 50-Story Seaport Tower [Curbed]
· Neighbors Deliver Feedback On Seaport Progress, Hated Tower [Curbed]
· All South Street Seaport coverage [Curbed]

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