The opposition to Howard Hughes Corporation's plans for the South Street Seaport, which include a 42-story-tower where the New Market Building now sits, has been very vocal. But what about those in the area who support the project? They do exist and have formed a group called Friends of the Seaport. Financial District residents Maria Ho, Joy Martini, and Lisa Gorke started the group, and they hosted a town hall meeting Monday night at the Pine Street School. They stressed the need for revitalization and that they are not on the Hughes payroll.
Martini talked about history a bit and noted that the proposed tower sits outside the South Street Seaport Historic District. She spoke about how the South Street Seaport Museum has been in trouble since long before Hughes came along. She pointed to other coming developments that show promise, such as Domino in Brooklyn and Astoria Cove in Queens, and said that new development would help businesses still struggling over two years after Hurricane Sandy.
Some of the criticism leveled against Hughes has been because the company is from Texas. People are angry about what they see as some Texans coming in and destroying their city. Referencing NYC's history of immigration, Martini asked, "Are the best things about our city native?"
Up next was Hughes's Chris Curry, who made sure to note that he went to NYU and lives in Chelsea. He said they are trying to create "a town center where there wasn't one before."
Curry and SHoP Architects' Partner Gregg Pasquarelli gave a detailed presentation of their plans for the Seaport area (largely the same presentation that SHoP gave in their offices two weeks ago). Pasquarelli noted that he and most of the staff at SHoP live in Lower Manhattan. He pointed out that the condition of the platform where the New Market Building sits makes it currently unusable and it needs to be entirely rebuilt for any development, regardless of whether or not it's a tower. He noted that the Tin Building, which would be moved away from the FDR Drive, isn't really the original Tin Building, since it was rebuilt after a fire. He also mentioned that the building would have to be moved because it needs to be raised to accommodate the floodplain, which can't be done where it is because raising the building would literally result in it crashing into the FDR Drive. He said he was "very excited" about the project.
South Street Seaport Museum President Jonathan Boulware spoke of how the seaport is the "birthplace of modern New York" and how Schermerhorn Row was the city's first world trade center. He said that, going forward, the museum would need to be "leaner" and that probably means fewer ships. Local food market expert Bob Lewis (he co-founded the city's Greenmarkets) spoke at length about the great markets of the continent and the wonder that would be the weekly market at this project.
Finally, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Howard Hughes Corporation CEO David Weinreb, and City Councilwoman Margaret Chin all spoke, though it seemed almost an afterthought. Brewer, who opposes the current plan, said of the parties involved, "We have a mutual goal." While she said they "need a school" (the tower would house a middle school on floors three through five), this is not the way to get it. She said she'd love to find Hughes a non-Seaport site for their tower. Chin spoke briefly and emphasized that "it's not a done deal." She has joined Brewer in criticizing the project, particularly the tower.
Weinreb spoke of having a "deep respect" for both his supporters and challengers. He said he wants a "vibrant, sustainable South Street Seaport district." "We will not let this community down," he said. On the whole, Hughes got a balanced reception Monday night. There were plenty of applause, but also some who spoke out against the proposal or in disbelief of what they were being told. This project is a long way from becoming a reality, but Hughes should begin the public review process next spring.
—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]
· Friends of the Seaport [Official]
· All South Street Seaport coverage [Curbed]