The Plot Thickens: Seaport Update
South Street Seaport and its museum may soon be no more By Helaina Hovitz As suspected and outlined in last week's article, March 20's City Council "food market" victory announcement turned out to be a lot of smoke and mirrors. In approving a Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) application with the Howard Hughes Corporation, the city has given the corporation the rights to redevelop Pier 17. But Hughes also has options to redevelop areas surrounding the South Street Seaport, with the possibility of constructing hotels, condos and upscale retail stores, potentially turning the entire area in one big generic mall complex. Initially, members of Community Board 1 received a Letter of Intent with a blacked-out "Mixed Use Project" section detailing the plans for the Fish Market area, in response to a Freedom of Information Law request filed with the city's Economic Development Corporation. Nine days after the Land Use application was approved by city council vote, board members found an unredacted version, revealing the corporation's true intentions. It turned out that the City Council did have that unredacted L.O.I. (Letter of Intent) in their possession, according to a firsthand account from East Village resident Robert LaValva, president of the New Amsterdam Market. LaValva saw the L.O.I. himself back in August of last year, but was told he couldn't have or keep a copy. (A spokesperson for City Council Member Margaret Chin said that the letter was never hidden from the public, and that LaValva was shown the letter in an overture of transparency.) LaValva tried to warn everyone about the developer's plans at March 14's City Council Hearing. "By voting to approve this ULURP, you will be approving a rezoning not only of the Pier 17 mall, but of the entire waterfront. What is troubling about this is that E.D.C. and Howard Hughes have a Letter of Intent to redevelop the Fulton Fish Market site as a luxury residential high rise, hotel and retail complex," he said. The latest news to unfold is that the South Street Seaport Museum, also under Howard Hughes Corporation control, is facing an 18-month deadline to get back on solid financial footing, a deadline that's up on April 5th. Rescued from going under by the Museum of the City of New York back in 2011, the Seaport museum estimates it would cost $22 million in repairs and renovations to upgrade after Hurricane Sandy (a figure that includes the cost of recovery as well as the costs to move the building's electrical systems to a higher floor to prevent damage from future flooding). In a newsletter that Margaret Chin's office handed out at the monthly Community Board 1 meeting on March 26, Hughes offered to provide the Seaport Museum with $250,000 over the next three months, followed by $100,000 a month for five months. Hughes has made no commitment to give up lease options to former Museum properties now under first option as per the 12.12.11 Letter of Intent depriving the Museum of a steady source of lease revenues. If the museum goes under, the Howard Hughes Corporation will gain all of its property. Additionally, the letter reveals that they are not providing any new docking berths for the Seaport's historic vessels, and are allowing the AMBROSE to stay where it is until they decide otherwise. The Howard Hughes Corporation has repeatedly declined to comment, just as they have refused to put forth a "Master Plan," prior to the mandatory deadline of August 30 of this year. They technically don't have to. But what's happening before everyone's eyes is the master plan, and it's unfolding with the help of the city, the Economic Development Corporation, and others.
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