Foes of Seaport Redevelopment Plans Present Ideas of Their Own

Rendering of Howard Hughes Corp. plan for reconstructed Tin Building, moved east, with food market on the ground floor. Nearby is controversial proposed residential tower. Rendering: SHoP Architects

Mar. 12, 2015

For more than a year, the grassroots group Save Our Seaport has been railing against the Howard Hughes Corp.’s proposed 50-story residential tower in the Seaport, along with its larger redevelopment plans for the area. Now they are coming up with a plan of their own.

Last month, they released what they say is the first part of an alternate proposal, with entirely different ideas for two major structures.

The group suggests that the New Market Building, which the Hughes Corp. wants to demolish to make way for the tower, be turned into a center for maritime activities as well as performance and arts spaces. They say that the upper floors of the landmark Tin Building could be used as a recreation center or middle school, or house a culinary facility such as a cooking school or caterer that would have “synergy” with a ground-floor food market.

Since November 2013, when the Hughes Corp. unveiled its preliminary development plans, the group has convened several meetings to voice its opposition. At one of them, in August, Roland Lewis, the president of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, urged the group to turn their anger into persuasive ideas.

“They’re moving forward with the Howard Hughes development,” Lewis told them. “What do you really, really want?”

For David Sheldon, a Save Our Seaport leader, the answer is clear.

“We want to see that district fulfill what it was originally designed to do, which was to be a place where you not only would bring your kids, but you’d want to come back to as an adult,” he said in a phone interview. “We’d want to have things going on there that are part of the maritime area but also part of a living neighborhood.”

Besides its vision for the New Market and Tin buildings, the group’s plans include an outdoor public market and berths for historic ships. It also calls for a halt to pending approval processes for the plans, saying that the mayor should launch a community-based master planning effort to establish a new vision for the historic district.

In the meantime, Hughes Corp. should find a new development site for its tower, possibly by transferring its air rights from the Seaport Historic District, according to Save Our Seaport.

The group did not say how its proposals would be paid for, but suggested that “public/private funds” could finance a middle school or recreation center in the Tin Building. They see the Seaport Museum earning income from a shared revenue arrangement with Hughes Corp. on retail spaces.

Lisa Gorke, a member of Friends of the Seaport, a group that supports Hughes Corp.’s plans, said that “much of what [Save our Seaport] is saying is already in the proposed plan.” She also contended that the group’s proposals fall short of addressing the Seaport’s needs. “Nothing in this plan supports or helps businesses,” Gorke said in an email. “It doesn’t serve our community or provide housing for anyone. So we’ll end up with a blighted neighborhood with a museum and a community center.”

Community Board 1 has is­sued a mixed bag of approvals and disapprovals on Hughes Corp.’s plans within the historic district. The next step is for the developer to present those plans to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Com­mission, but a date for that hearing has yet to be set.

In a joint letter, Coun­cilwoman Margaret Chin and Borough President Gale Brewer have urged Landmarks Com­mission Chairwoman Meenakshi Sri­nivasan to hold off consideration of the proposals until a city review process for the entire plan—including the controversial 500-foot-high tower—begins.