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SOM and Howard Hughes reveal their tower plans for the South Street Seaport

A Twin Pronged Approach

SOM and Howard Hughes reveal their tower plans for the South Street Seaport

The second time’s the charm: Seven months after the Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC) selected SOM to design different proposals for a potential tower project at Manhattan’s South Street Seaport, the team has returned with a final vision for 250 Water Street… and the historic South Street Seaport Museum.

While the first few proposals for 250 Water Street, currently a surface-level parking lot at the edge of the Seaport Historic District, floated different tower configurations up to 1,000 feet tall, the final design has scaled that back drastically. Instead, after conferring with residents and Community Board 1, HHC and SOM have chosen to split the programming into two towers on a base, with the taller one topping out at only 470 feet—less than half as tall, but above the 12-story height limit currently allowed by the district’s zoning. However, because of the lot’s location at the boundary of the historic district and the taller towers of Lower Manhattan, HHC is arguing that the project would act more as a backdrop for the historic district, rather than disrupt it (a claim seemingly supported by the renderings released as well). Retail at the podium’s base will reportedly be kept in line with the neighboring historic storefronts.

The developer is also touting the project’s affordable housing bona-fides, as the mixed-use tower complex would bring 360 units to the neighborhood, 100 of which would be earmarked as permanently affordable for those earning 40 percent of the area’s median income. The remaining 260 units would be condominiums. HHC, in their reveal, pointed out that this would bring the first affordable units to Manhattan Community Board 1’s district under the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, an area critically lacking in affordable housing.

Rendering of a squat historic building in the south street seaport next to a more contemporary museum
The South Street Seaport Museum, if the project is approved, would use some of the $50 million received to design a new permanent home and renovate its existing building. (The Howard Hughes Corporation/SOM)

Key to this $1.4 billion project’s realization will be the transfer of air rights from the South Street Seaport Museum, which will allow HHC to build its tower complex. The beleaguered museum, which opened in 1967 to commemorate the city’s port and shipbuilding history, has been battered by a series of closures, COVID being the most recent cause. Under HHC’s proposal, the museum would receive $50 million,  some of which will go towards the design of a new permanent home, ideally helping to secure its continued operations indefinitely, and the renovation of its existing building. If the project is approved, the museum would launch a capital plan to fundraise for the construction of the SOM-designed addition. From the quotes provided by HHC in the project’s reveal, the museum itself, as well as a number of waterfront and preservation nonprofit organizations, are on board.

However, the ambitious project still needs to overcome several hurdles. The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) needs to sign off on both the new towers and the museum, and the city has to approve the transfer of air rights from Pier 17 and the Tin Building to 250 Water Street. The project will be presented to the LPC this December, and HHC expects the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure to begin in the spring of 2021. If all goes as planned, construction is expected to begin in 2022.

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