Howard Hughes’ plan for 250 Water fails to get approval from Landmarks

The Landmarks Commission held a two-hour discussion of the plans for 250 Water and 175 John on Tuesday, giving its support for the design of the five-story building that would expand the South Street Seaport Museum but nixing plans for the full-block site next to the Peck Slip School that would include two 470-foot towers.

There was not a “no” vote per se; rather the commission took no action, and asked the applicant to consider its comments and eventually the commission would let them know about next steps. In short, it’s back to the drawing board. “Certainly the commission is supportive of some development here, the question is what,” said chair Sarah Carroll. “This approach [the tower-on-a-base typology] is not at a point where anyone is comfortable right now.”

One by one, the commissioners gave their impressions of the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill designs for the site, owned by the Howard Hughes Corporation, and overall there were very few comments that supported the current plans for 250 Water. While the applicants argued that the site was on the edge of the historic district and therefore could reflect the built context of the towers surrounding it, the commissioners noted that “it’s either in or out — there’s no ‘on the edge’ where we have a different standard.”

To allow the towers to “invade the district’s sky space…would be a literal violation of the district’s defining unifying qualities,” said Commissioner Michael Goldblum.

Carroll noted at the top of the meeting that while there were two proposals to consider — 250 Water and 175 John — the financial connection between the two, where HHC will build the new museum and give it $50 million as an endowment, could not be within the scope of the commission’s review. The project will also include 100 units of affordable housing. “These considerations, while laudable, are not factors that we can consider or rely on in determining whether the designs for the 250 Water Street site or the John Street site are appropriate.”

Nearly all the commissioners supported the design for 175 John — even giving way on the copper cladding, which will change color over time until it is green.

Carroll also wanted to clear the record on the number of proposals the commission has reviewed for 250 Water: the total was four, all of which were received between 30 and 38 years ago. Three were rejected and the fourth and last, a 1991 proposal from Charles A. Platt for a 10-story building, was approved.

All agreed that this particular site is rare — not only has it been empty for decades, it is also the biggest empty lot by nearly two times in any historic district in the city. Still is not meant to be a transition, said one commissioner, Jeanne Lufty, rather it’s supposed to “still feel like we are stepping into a historic area.”

“When you cross Pearl Street you have a completely different sensation,” she noted of the walk from the dark canyons of Fidi to the Seaport. “It’s almost like the weight of the world has been taken off your shoulders.”



  1. While I preferred the 950 foot, single tower version to this, out city desperately needs affordable housing and this development delivers it. It’s a shame our commissioners hate poor people so much.

  2. If I’m not mistaken, “FiDi Guy” has testified about this application at various hearings. Because he used the same smug, ignorant language. “It’s a shame our commissioners hate poor people so much.” Just the kind of uninformed, baiting language the Capitol rioters used. The commissioners are merely following the law. Want to change what the commissioners are allowed to do? Change the law, dunce.

  3. What a disaster. Whether it’s the law or the commissioners misusing the discretion they’re given under the law, the outcome is bad for NYC, both current residents and future residents.

  4. Follow the law! Why would anyone want to ruin the wonderful old feeling of our seaport? Aren’t there enough skyscrapers hovering over lower Manhattan leaving it dark? What is the Landmark Commission for if not to enforce its’ own rules? I was among the first to move below the Brooklyn Bridge almost 50 years ago, along with a few artists in the area. Southbridge Towers was built as middle income housing, allowing over 1,000 families to make it the neighborhood that it has become, fighting for schools and playgrounds. The seaport was a charming, inexpensive place for tourists to. Is it, kids to run around, tour old ships and listen to outdoor concerts at night. After 9/11 businesses exited lower Manhattan in droves. Huge amounts of buildings were converted to living spaces. I’m happy to have young, innovated minds recreate our seaport, but really with everyone afraid, and running from NYC there’s got to be an abundance of empty apartments. Why would Landmarks even consider ruining our historical area?

  5. There is no end to the destruction of historic districts in New York. Affordable housing is the De Blasio era strategy to give vulture developers more pass to do what they want. The revival schemes of South Street Seaport in the past twenty some years have all failed fantastically. Malls and chain stores didn’t do it, so the latest epiphany is glassy towers. The more out of scale more obnoxious the better. Why not just leave South Street Seaport alone, let history speak for itself? To these people history is a brand, meaning exploitation and gaudy tourism, soulless development that replace any possibility of a sense of history. Bring back the Peking, bring back the Fulton Street Fish Market!

  6. I find it astonishing the amount of effort that is going into saving a “historical parking lot”. Businesses are going out of business and the development of this site would bring forth additional foot traffic that is desperately needed. There won’t be any district to save if no businesses survive.

    • I do not think anyone wants to save a parking lot.” More apartments however are the last thing Manhattan needs especially now. There is an a overload of living spaces. Landmark Commission would be a joke if they designated a landmark and then decide to change their minds. What are they saving? Certainly the entrance to the FDR Drive and Brooklyn Bridge do not need more traffic.