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Will the Seaport Redevelopment Succumb to Local Resistance?

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Part of the plans for the redevelopment of the South Street Seaport received a very qualified approval from the local community board this month, but does it even mean anything? Not really, according to Charles Bagli at the Times. Bagli zeroes in on the political players involved with the development, and points out that the mayor has been pretty quiet about the development. Local officials, on the other hand, have not been quiet. City Council member Margaret Chin and borough president Gale Brewer have joined the many local residents in opposing the Howard Hughes Corporation's plan for a 494-foot condo/hotel tower beside Pier 17.

The tower sits outside of the Seaport Historic District, but opponents argue that it blocks views of the Brooklyn Bridge and doesn't fit with the low-rise historic neighborhood. The developer says it is the only way to fund the proposal's public space improvements (including upgrade for the South Street Seaport Museum), affordable housing, and new school. Even still, Brewer told the Times, "Howard Hughes needs to start over."

Howard Hughes first revealed plans for a tower in November 2013 and faced immediate backlash from the community, so they spent the next year completely rehashing the plan with community feedback. But the new plan, which has a shorter tower than the first, is still has some pretty serious haters. The proposal includes 50 to 60 affordable apartments (about 30 percent of the total), and since Mayor de Blasio has said that he's willing to trade height and density for below-market rate housing (see: Domino), one would think he'd be down with this plan. But that's unclear. The only public thing he has said about the project is that he has "no philosophical prohibition...about putting a tower next to a historical district." He also said that "the Seaport Museum is really crucial to the city and I think it has to be protected."

Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for economic development reiterated these sentiments to Bagli, and said they are "in ongoing discussions with the community and its elected officials, as well as the private developer, to see if we can achieve that critical objective and satisfy other priorities the neighborhood has raised."

Bagli wagers that the developer may have been counting on the influence of the area's state assemblyman, Sheldon Silver, who is now mired in a corruption scandal and has relinquished his duties. With Silver out, "the political calculus has changed." The plan must be approved by City Council, and the council usually follows the lead of the local member. For the Seaport, that's Margaret Chin, who opposes the tower beside Pier 17.

Brewer and Chin, according to Bagli, are hinging their fight on a few lines from de Blasio's State of the City address: "We are not embarking on a mission to build towering skyscrapers where they don't belong," he said. "We have a duty to protect and preserve the culture and character of our neighborhoods, and we will do so." Even though de Blasio was talking about his plans for East New York, Brewer and Chin want him to apply the same thinking to the Seaport.
· Despite Amenities, South Street Seaport Redevelopment Plans Stall Over a High-Rise [NYT]
· De Blasio Has No 'Philosophical' Opposition to Seaport Tower [Curbed]
· SHoP's Revised, Shorter South Street Seaport Tower, Revealed! [Curbed]
· All coverage of the South Street Seaport [Curbed]

South Street Seaport Museum

12 Fulton Street, Manhattan, NY 10038 (212) 748-8600 Visit Website