BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | The City Planning Commission voted Feb. 6 to approve The Howard Hughes Corp.’s plan to tear down the existing mall on Pier 17 in the South Street Seaport and replace it with a glass-enclosed structure. However, the commission wants some modifications to the plan which now goes to the City Council.
Howard Hughes has asked all tenants to vacate Pier 17 by April 30. The tenants, who are still grappling with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, said that this would cause them great and continuing hardship, and they need the busy summer season to recoup their losses.
This week, Sal Himani, whose family owns six restaurants on the pier, said he heard from a fellow tenant that there might be a reprieve past April 30, but he received no official confirmation.
At the hearing two weeks ago, Michelle de la Uz, a Planning Commissioner member appointed by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, asked the Economic Development Corp., owner of the pier, to negotiate with Howard Hughes to extend the Pier 17 tenants’ leases until the fall. At the present time, under a Letter of Intent between E.D.C. and Howard Hughes, construction on the pier would have to begin on July 1, 2013 at the latest.
City Planning could not make a comment about the leases an official part of the resolution because it has no legal authority to weigh in on this issue. However, “the fact that one member did mention it is good,” said Michael Levine, director of planning and land use for Community Board 1.
City Planning rejected the prominent signage that Howard Hughes had requested for the rooftop of the new mall building. Howard Hughes had gone so far as to write to City Planning asking it to reconsider its negative position on the sign, but C.P.C. refused to change its position.
“The elimination of the rooftop sign will prevent the experience of the Lower Manhattan waterfront environment and the views of the Brooklyn Bridge from being compromised,” Amanda Burden, commission chairperson, said according to the official transcript.
Burden, who did not comment on a lease extension, said the project will help “a declining shopping district within the Seaport Historic District” attract residents and workers in addition to tourists.
The C.P.C. resolution also requires mooring for boats of different sizes at Pier 17 and increased maritime use of the pier.
The resolution on Pier 17 now goes to City Council, which has about a month to approve it, alter it or dismiss it.
City Councilmember Margaret Chin has been talking with Pier 17 tenants and with the Howard Hughes Corp. about the need to extend the Pier 17 leases through the fall. In a telephone conference call on Jan. 23, Howard Hughes executives told Chin that they would look into that possibility, but so far, they have not gotten back to her.
Chin said that she is going to take the matter up with the E.D.C. and with New York City Deputy Mayor Robert Steel.
“Margaret Chin and City Council are the last stop,” said Levine. “City Council may want to reopen the issue of extending the tenants’ leases.”
He said that in general he was pleased with the City Planning Commission vote. Community Board 1 had voted against the rooftop signage and had espoused other measures for Pier 17 that made their way into the resolution that the City Planning Commission passed.
“The community board succeeded where we felt we could,” he said.
E.D.C. did not comment on the City Planning Commission vote but previously had no comment about a lease extension.
Howard Hughes Corp. also refused to say anything about a lease extension but released a statement saying it was happy to get commission approval to transform “the building’s iconic waterfront setting into an energetic, highly engaging destination for shopping, dining and entertainment in Lower Manhattan.”