Roger Byrom, chair of Community Board 1’s Landmarks Committee, at a meeting on July at which the committee discussed a resolution to go before CB1’s full board on July 28 condemning the segmentation of The Howard Hughes Corporation’s proposals for the South Street Seaport. (Photos: Terese Loeb Kreuzer)

Roger Byrom, chair of Community Board 1’s Landmarks Committee, spoke in measured tones at a meeting of the committee on July 9, but there was no mistaking the annoyance and even anger in his voice. He was presenting a draft of a resolution to the committee about The Howard Hughes Corporation’s latest proposals for Pier 17 – namely to demolish the head house, add a canopy and mechanical screens to the roof, create an access drive and demolish the Link Building.

“You’ll see in the resolution that we want clarification and we want it written down and we want it absolutely iron clad and we want to review it again,” Byrom said, “because there [have been] so many [revisions] to this segmented proposal that it’s tiresome and every time we give something up, they [Howard Hughes] come back with a request for something else.”

The segmentation of the Howard Hughes proposals stuck in his craw. What happens in one part of the relatively small South Street Seaport will affect other parts, but this is not how HHC has been presenting its plans.

“This is a segmented application, which the applicant is using to its benefit,” Byrom said. “We can all drop down dead before they finally get around to presenting something [definitive].”

The draft resolution was based on a hastily called public hearing that took place on June 25. Not all of the members of the Landmarks committee were able to be present, even though they would have wanted to be there.

The resolution started by asking again – as the Landmarks Committee has asked repeatedly for the last 15 years – for the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to extend the South Street Seaport Historic District to be congruent with the federal and State Historic District boundaries so as to include the area where the New Market Building now stands and where The Howard Hughes Corporation would like to build a tall tower. State and federal landmark designations do not protect that site. Only City designation would do so.

Having put that issue on the table again, the resolution went on to address the specifics of the current Howard Hughes proposal for Pier 17. Demolition of the head house and the Link Building were not opposed, but the other parts of what Howard Hughes wants to do were regarded with dismay.
The proposed addition of a glass-like canopy 30 feet above the roof of Pier 17 “will further block the iconic views of the Seaport, the tall ships, the Brooklyn Bridge and most likely add inappropriate uses to the roof, which will further undermine the community’s access to the space through the year,” the resolution said.

Byrom noted that David Weinreb, CEO of Howard Hughes, has described Pier 17 “as the world’s premiere boutique entertainment venue and has commented that it would be able to hold 4,000 participants.”

A kiosk on Fulton Street in the South Street Seaport shows The Howard Hughes Corporation’s vision for the Pier 17 roof as “the world’s premier boutique entertainment venue.”

In fact, HHC has placed a kiosk on Fulton Street in the South Street Seaport that shows the throngs on the roof of Pier 17.

For the Landmarks Committee, this alarming prospect raised the specter of noise and light pollution and limited community access.

The HHC proposal to add a hardscape access drive to the pier that would also serve a potential future building on the New Market site was also disliked “without full traffic studies being prepared for the Community Board to consider the impact” of such a driveway. It would “introduce disruptive and dangerous vehicular traffic, undermine the historic character of the district and directly contradict the pedestrianization goals of the Seaport Working Group,” the resolution said.

The committee unanimously voted to approve the draft resolution.

The Howard Hughes Corporation is scheduled to present its proposals to the Landmarks Preservation Commission on July 21. That presentation will take place at the Municipal Building, 1 Centre Street, on the 9th floor at a time that has not yet been announced.

The resolution approved by CB1’s Landmarks Committee will also be presented to LPC, even though CB1’s full board will not yet have ratified it. The next full board meeting takes place on July 28. In August, Community Board 1 doesn’t meet unless there is an emergency.

Byrom didn’t like the timing of this.

“It doesn’t surprise me that the application is ready to be heard right before we go on our summer holiday,” he said.
He saw that as a calculated effort on the part of The Howard Hughes Corporation to make it awkward for CB1 to respond effectively.

“Going forward we’re not going to accommodate applicants,” Byrom said. “We rushed to put together a meeting [on June 25]. A lot of members couldn’t be present and wanted to be present.”

He said that such a thing would not happen again.”
– Terese Loeb Kreuzer
Downtown Post NYC