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Seaport Report, Week of Dec. 18, 2014: On Howard Hughes’ plans

Downtown Express file photo by Milo Hess Howard Hughes Corp.’s ice rink last month after it opened for the season at the Seaport. The author argues the rink, rather than Hughes’ plans to expand shopping, is one of the few good additions the firm has made. At right is the historic Schermerhorn Row block, currently leased by Hughes and the South Street Seaport Museum, which the corporation has proposed converting to affordable housing on the upper floors.
Downtown Express file photo by Milo Hess
Howard Hughes Corp.’s ice rink last month after it opened for the season at the Seaport. The author argues the rink, rather than Hughes’ plans to expand shopping, is one of the few good additions the firm has made. At right is the historic Schermerhorn Row block, currently leased by Hughes and the South Street Seaport Museum, which the corporation has proposed converting to affordable housing on the upper floors.

BY JANEL BLADOW   |  It’s the holiday season and bells should be ringing, people should be singing…instead around our neighborhood, everyone’s in the catfight that the Howard Hughes Corporation development has become!

It’s over Just go ahead and consider the South Street Seaport the new Meatpacking District, as one attendee at last week’s WWD & Seaport District NYC cocktail reception to celebrate the “Ten of Tomorrow” in retail and design innovation said to me. “There goes the neighborhood. Like Soho, Tribeca…it’s done.”

With every known media outlet in the city – TV, print and online – chiming in about the massive redevelopment plan, there’s little need for me put in my two cents. But as a Water St. resident for more than 30 years — I watched all the changes— I’m still going to share my thoughts, without rehashing the plans. If you want the details, just Google them, read the pros/cons and form your own opinions.

It’s interesting that a newly formed group —Friends of the Seaport, headed by three women/moms who love the area and want a great place to raise their families—has so slickly produced a website. Do a Google search of “South Street Seaport” theirs is the very first item to appear! You know how much that costs to be the top “ad” in a search….just wondering. And, I loved it too that following H.H.C.’s presentation of their plans, anyone wearing a “Friends of the Seaport” yellow t-shirt got refreshments at Ambrose Hall and a free ice skating party.

Plus, this newly formed “independent group” wants schools and soccer fields for their kids. That’s not what the Seaport is about. Families have lived here for as long as I can remember, and produced great kids who are now wonderful adults. They got to school, they played sports and lived interesting, creative childhoods. And they flourished in a neighborhood rich in our city and country’s history. A nabe that still felt like old New Amsterdam, not just another development.

I’m all for cleaning up the hood. Yes, South Street from the Brooklyn Bridge south is still an eyesore, though better than it was after the Fish Market was shipped out ten years ago. Something does need to be done. The city is wasting a valuable, beautiful resource, our waterfront. The esplanade is proof of what our public spaces can look like. However, the design by H.H.C., while it purports to have walkways and bike lanes under the upper roadway of F.D.R. Drive, it still doesn’t appear to be open, scenic or to end congestion.

In fact, the new Pier 17 under construction, their proposed nearly 500-foot high-rise apartment building and marina, would seem to add even more traffic by foot, bike, cars and trucks. I just don’t see how an apartment building with a school will make the waterfront a place for all New Yorkers and visitors to enjoy.

A school on a riverfront? Excuse me, but we’re going to have a school on Peck Slip and the Blue School says it plans to open a middle school in 2015. Why wouldn’t it be a better plan to put a school in a more convenient, central location than out on a landfill in the East River?

I want to preserve the historic elements of the neighborhood but I believe we also need to clean it up, make it vital and a fun place to work, shop and visit. We can go to Midtown for the H&Ms, Herald’s Square for Macy’s, and Madison Ave., Fifth Ave. and Soho for glitz and high end boutiques. You can even go to Wall St. for Pink’s and Tiffany’s. And, this is N.Y.C. people, hop a bus or a subway and you can shop anywhere! Why would we need miles of more Old Navy’s and Gap’s? What H.H.C. and the community need do is to come up with a plan  and define what kind of shopping is necessary. The idea for a green market was not only a compromise but taken from the people who started the New Amsterdam Market. Why weren’t they embraced?

What are all these people to do for entertainment? That brings me to something that H.H.C. has done very well — entertainment. The skating rink is wonderful, the summer concerts fun. More needs to be done to draw people down and keep neighbors around, more than just bars, restaurants and shopping.

There’s room for history and museums as well as commerce and development. But it should be done with a sense of pride and uniqueness — because our little neighborhood is something very special.

Community Board 1’s Landmarks Committee is now mulling over suggestions sent by residents and other before voting on the plans Jan. 5. After the full board votes, the proposal heads to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission for review.

Let’s hope saner heads rule than those who gave H.H.C. the waterfront for pennies. I loved the quote about the proposal from C.B.  1 member Paul Hovitz that has been widely circulated this week: “When I look at this, I really get the feeling of Las Vegas. I don’t get a lot of feeling of the old seaport.” Casinos or Mississippi River Steamboats with slot machines anyone?

Old diehards… Save Our Seaport, the group that wants save the historic elements of the ‘hood, is hosting a short meeting Thursday night, Dec. 18, 6:30 p.m. It’s in the library at St. Margaret’s House, 49 Fulton St. The group wants take stock and discuss future strategy.

Look to the past… Since April 2013 the South Street Seaport Museum galleries have been closed due to damage from Hurricane Sandy. But the lobby at 12 Fulton St. opened last weekend with a show of historic photos of the old Fulton Fish Market, artifacts of the seaport’s role as a major shipping center and artworks including sailor style tattoos, ship models and scrimshaw. Stop by and check it out.

Happy feet… The Gelsey Kirkland Ballet performs The Nutcracker set to Tchaikovsky’s moving score this weekend, Thursday, Dec. 18 – Sunday, Dec. 21, at Pace’s University’s Schimmel Center, 3 Spruce St. Ballerina’s take you on a girl’s journey “through fear and darkness to the light of love.” For times and tickets: schimmel.pace.edu/events/the-nutcracker.

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