Seaport firm talks tower, school and greenmarket

By Julie Shapiro

General Growth Properties may combine a school with a community center in the redevelopment of Pier 17.

G.G.P. has already offered the community a 30,000-square-foot community center in the building where the “Bodies” exhibit sits and is examining population projections to decide if a new school is necessary.

On Tuesday, Michael McNaughton, a vice president at G.G.P., floated the idea of combining the two community amenities in a space that would be a school during the day and a community center at night. But he quickly added that was only one option and he recognized the need for a 24/7 community center. He said that keeping the amenities separate was also possible.

McNaughton spoke to two reporters after a meeting of Community Board 1’s Seaport Committee, where board members discussed General Growth’s proposed development but did not ask much about the school. General Growth wants to build a 495-foot condo and hotel tower just north of the pier, move the landmarked Tin Building to Pier 17’s tip and build lower-rise retail and a boutique hotel on the pier.

General Growth is planning to expand the greenmarket in the Fulton Market building. The market, one of the uses desired by many residents, opened briefly earlier this summer and is scheduled to reopen with more stalls soon. McNaughton said the community should support the produce vendors to show General Growth that the market is a good idea.

“If this thing flops, it’ll be Yankee T-shirts and bonsai trees,” McNaughton said after the meeting.

Earlier, when board members asked about news reports questioning General Growth’s finances, McNaughton said the firm’s ability to build it is so certain that it is a moot point. He later said G.G.P. has shuttered other retail projects around the country because the markets in those towns “experienced tremendous slowdowns.” He said General Growth would not build the Seaport project without having some tenants in place.

McNaughton spent much of the Seaport Committee meeting defending the project to several skeptical committee members, who were particularly concerned about the height of the tower. The tower will not block views of the Brooklyn Bridge from 117 Beekman St., St. Margaret’s House or Southbridge Towers, but those buildings will lose a slice of their view of the waterfront and Brooklyn.

When the committee members asked McNaughton to shrink the tower without making it any wider, McNaughton said a change like that would come with a tradeoff.

“If the project gets smaller, my wallet gets smaller,” he said, meaning that General Growth would have fewer community amenities to offer.

McNaughton will have plenty more chances to debate these points with the community, as he estimates that the project is six to seven years away from opening.

General Growth’s next presentation to C.B. 1 will be at the Landmarks Committee on Sept. 17. G.G.P. needs Landmarks approval to demolish the Pier 17 mall, move the Tin Building and erect new structures on Pier 17. The project will go to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission in October.