The Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC) unveiled a comprehensive proposal for Lower Manhattan’s Seaport area, including the transformation of an underutilized full-block surface parking lot along the boundary of the South Street Seaport Historic District into a mixed-income development that would include some of the area’s first new affordable housing in decades.
The $1.4-billion proposal also seeks to provide long-term financial stability of the South Street Seaport Museum, improvements to the museum’s historic buildings that will allow it to reopen, and a design for a new museum building on an adjacent vacant lot. HHC’s plan comes after more than a year of community input that helped shape it. The plans were designed by architecture and urban design firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM).
The centerpiece of the proposal is 250 Water Street, which will include the first affordable housing built in Manhattan Community Board 1 through the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program. It will bring at least 100 critically needed permanently affordable apartments to a Community Board district where just 2.5 percent of all housing qualifies as affordable. Of the project’s roughly 360 overall units, approximately 25 percent will be affordable, along with approximately 260 condominium units.
250 Water Street is a unique, full block site located on the edge of the historic district at the transition point between the tall skyline of Lower Manhattan and the lower scale of the Seaport. Vacant and used as a surface parking lot for decades, it has no historic fabric or significance. In planning 250 Water Street, HHC and SOM explored multiple configurations for the site and presented several options as part of three community-wide engagement workshops. Earlier concepts included a single tower standing nearly 305 m (1000 ft). Shaped by feedback from community members, Community Board 1, and elected officials, the highest point of the proposed building is now 143 m (470 ft).
The distinctive two-tower design includes a contextually scaled podium base designed to reference the heights, materials, and massing of adjacent buildings and the vernacular of the historic district. The base is articulated at key points to allow light down to surrounding streets and neighboring buildings and includes storefronts that are resonant and compatible with the historic storefronts found in that district. The 250 Water proposal also includes enhancements to the Peck Slip Play Street used by the neighboring Peck Slip School and Seaport families, as well as community-oriented spaces and office space.
The proposal is in keeping with HHC’s commitment to preserving the character of the Seaport and honoring its past, which has included refurbishment of the historic buildings on Schermerhorn Row, preservation of the cobblestone streets, and the nearly completed renovation of the Tin Building. Critically, HHC’s plan provides essential support for the South Street Seaport Museum, guardian and curator of the heritage of the global port where New York began.
Through HHC’s proposal, $50 million will be available to the museum, providing it with a secure recurring revenue stream and allowing it to advance a first phase of restoration and rehabilitation that will enable the museum to reopen.
Building on this financial base, the museum will plan for a new state-of-the-art building that will meet its programming needs. The future vision is for the museum to maintain and restore key current properties, which are crucial testaments to the history of how New York was built and grew, as well as construct a modern, properly climate-controlled, high-ceiling space suitable to display precious art and artifacts from its collection.
A number of government approvals are required for the project. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) must approve the designs of the 250 Water Street Building and the new museum building as well as the improvements to the museum’s historic buildings. Additionally, to proceed with the overall project, a framework for transferring unused development rights from the HHC-leased Pier 17 and Tin Building sites to 250 Water Street must be approved. Transferring these development rights to the upland 250 Water Street site will help preserve the low-rise character of the waterfront and the existing built fabric. Through the development rights sale, upon which the 250 Water Street proposal is contingent and requires city review and consent, the $50 million will be made available to the museum. The proposed transfer builds on the existing mechanism for transfer of development rights within the Seaport Subdistrict, which has been in existence since 1972.
To move this proposal forward, HHC will undertake a comprehensive public review that will provide opportunities for community engagement and public comment, including at LPC and under the city’s full public land use review process, known as the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). The proposal will be formally presented to the LPC in December, and the ULURP process is expected to begin in spring 2021. Under this timeline, if approved, construction, and the economic activity it will create, would begin in 2022.