OVERFLOW CROWD AT SOUTH STREET SEAPORT MEETING

Thursday, January 23, 2014 - 4:41pm
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"Our premise is very simple," Robert LaValva told the crowd at the town hall meeting on January 13, 2014 to discuss the future of South Street Seaport. "To halt all current redevelopment proposals for the South Street Seaport and to initiate a comprehensive planning process for this unique and irreplaceable part of New York City."

Representing a new organization called Just Press Pause, Mr. LaValva was one of more than 50 speakers and several hundred in the audience. Most speakers voiced opposition to the development proposal put forth several months ago by Howard Hughes Corp. which includes a 50-story tower at the waterfront just south of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Among those urging a collaborative and transparent master planning process were Michael Kramer from Save Our Seaport (SOS), Clay Hiles (right) from the Hudson River Foundation, Roland Lewis from the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance and Capt. Brian McAllister of McAllister Towing and Transportation. While some speakers exhorted HHC and the City to support the South Street Seaport Museum, others expressed caution about tying HHC plans to the museum or the vitality of the seaport. "We don't want the development of the new Hughes tower to be the lifeline of the South Street Seaport Museum," Mr. Kramer said. "We want the museum to be in control of the waterfront down here."

"We're not anti-development at the MWA," Roland Lewis told the crowd, describing a positive meeting with HHC executives about creating maritime access in the vicinity of Pier 17. "But we have an obligation to maintain our waters' edge -- and we can't rely on private development to fund this."

"It is precisely because this District's buildings, streets, and piers are so unique, and so irreplaceable, that we absolutely must consider their history, their worth, their problems, and their potential before any further decisions are made concerning their future," Mr. LaValva said. "We must consider as well that the Seaport and its structures are a public asset, belonging to all the residents of this city, whose highest and best use is to serve a public purpose. Just what that public purpose will be remains to be determined, but one thing is certain: it cannot, and will not be determined behind closed doors, and without all stakeholders involved."

Andrew Breslau of the Alliance for Downtown New York spoke favorably of HHC's proposal. "This evening, the Alliance takes no position on the specific design and density details... but we do want to affirm and recognize the integrity of the proposal's underlying logic," he said. "The costs of rebuilding the infrastructure around the seaport is simply one the city will not undertake. It is incumbent on all of us to work creatively and constructively with Howard Hughes to bring about the kind of investment and the kind of visionary project that best benefits both New York's interests and the company's bottom line."

Among others who stepped to the podium were Christopher Nicholson, a commercial fisherman who said he wants to see the continuation of a public market so that he can keep selling his fish. The idea of encouraging the delivery of goods and transports of visitors by water was echoed by Mr. Kramer of SOS.

Community Board 1 Chair Catherine McVay Hughes said the town hall meeting was the beginning of an extended planning and land-use process. This spring, she said, the Landmarks Preservation Commission would review the HHC proposal. A ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) will follow in the summer or fall.

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