The Real Deal New York

Howard Hughes Corp. pays $31M for Seaport air rights

JPMorgan Chase operates special air-rights bank

February 11, 2015 04:40PM
By Rich Bockmann

Howard Hughes Corporation's Chris Curry and rendering of South Street Seaport

Howard Hughes Corp.’s Chris Curry and rendering of South Street Seaport

UPDATED, February 13, 12:35 p.m.: The Howard Hughes Corp. paid roughly $31 million to buy more than 300,000 square feet of air rights at the South Street Seaport, property records filed yesterday show.

The Dallas, Texas-based development firm, whose proposed 42-story residential tower on the East River is a source of controversy, paid $30.8 million to buy 333,329 square feet of air rights from a consortium of banks that owns the air rights above the South Street Seaport Museum and a handful of properties on the block north of Front Street, property records filed yesterday show.

While air-rights transfers are generally restricted to adjacent properties, the city created a special transfer district over the seaport area intended to preserve its historic character. The district allows property owners to sell their unused rights to a bank, which can in turn sell them off to developers.

The seller was listed as JPMorgan Chase, which acts as an agent for the bank.

The seaport area itself, which Hughes controls through a land-lease with the city, is in a state of disrepair, and the developer has submitted a $305 million proposal that includes infrastructure improvements and public-investment benefits, as well as the luxury tower.

The controversial project, which has already been scaled back, is being met with strong community opposition, notably from local Councilwoman Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

The Hughes corporation has no immediate plans for the air rights.

Senior Executive Vice President Chris Curry said the company’s “immediate priority is the rebuilding of Pier 17 – bringing transformational dining, shopping, entertainment, and cultural experiences that will draw New Yorkers back to the district – and advancing our proposed mixed-use project and $305 million worth of vital infrastructure and community investments.”

This post was updated to include a statement from the Howard Hughes Corporation.

Correction: The air rights were not transferred to a specific receiving site.

  • Seaport Skeptic

    So who got the $31 million? EDC? The city?

  • Charles Deroko

    The South Street Seaport Museum, chartered by NY State in 1967 as a maritime museum, is the marrow of the historic district.
    Its creation established a foothold that preserved the surrounding area
    and buildings. Shortly after it was founded,the museum began the arduous process of saving a number of historically significant vessels from America and abroad.

    In its first decade, the South Street Seaport Museum was developing as a repository for artifacts and a center for the study of things maritime. It was a place where ship restoration and the meticulous research and skilled workmanship that such tasks required were widely respected. The museum’s library became notable as a place where general maritime information and details about various ships could be found. It also became a serious research venue that was the go-to place
    for national and international queries on hard-to-find answers to maritime questions.
    During this time, the museum had other commendable features including an active
    book and chart shop, a ship model room and an art gallery with rotating
    exhibits. Regularly scheduled lectures and book readings were held in the exhibit spaces. The museum also offered boat-building courses to the public in a small temporary structure located in what is now the corner lot on John & South St. An active membership and volunteer corps rounded out public participation while the
    surrounding tightly-knit community, composed of various professionals, artists
    and tradesmen, took a keen interest in the fledgling museum and its future

    All this is gone or vastly withered. The current plight of the museum is not solely the result of man-made or natural disasters, but rather the short-sighted actions of those who, over the years, led the museum astray with foolish, easy-money pipe dreams. In collusion with developers were city agencies who, rather than further the creation of a world-class maritime museum, sacrificed all else for pie-in-the-sky economic projections. It is perplexing why the city has never provided a portion of the museum’s operating funds as it does for other similar institutions. There is no rational argument against New York City boasting a first-rate maritime museum. It is not the South Street Seaport Museum of the past that should be lamented, but
    the loss of what the museum could be in the future.

    One needs to look no further for inspiration than the accomplished maritime museums that flourish in other great world ports. Anything but stodgy or quaint, they are dazzling jewels of education and history that provide their citizens with a tangible link to their maritime heritage. Examples of notable maritime museums abound in our country as well, but while our great port city should be
    at the forefront, we lag far behind.

    The current relationship between the developer, the city and the museum, and
    therefore the fates of Schermerhorn Row, the ships, the library, the art and
    the archeological collections, appear to be unknown. Perhaps, with an assertive plan, the museum could reverse its current decline and declare itself the trusted guardian of our city’s maritime history. And, perhaps, the city might recognize and embrace the need for such an institution. Clumsy and gullible leadership, the cryptic museum board and other obscure relationships do not, however, inspire confidence for success. It appears that the true mission of the South Street Seaport Museum has no champion.

    So the difficult question remains: can the museum be an independent, well-respected and robust institution firmly rooted in its subject, or must it be simply a
    mediocre appendage on the hip of the developer? And what of the museum’s 1967 NYS Charter? Does it remain valid or have the well-defined terms been disregarded?

    Those calling the tune are presenting the public with little more than over-advertised shopping, too-loud concerts and an embarrassment posing as a
    maritime museum. Indeed, it is quite clear that only the public’s purse is being mined, and not its curiosity.

    The Titanic Memorial Lighthouse, once perched on the parapets of The Seamen’s
    Church Institute at 25 South Street, now stands in a small park adjacent to the
    museum. In contrast to the surrounding ballyhoo and indifference, the lighthouse remains a silent tribute to those lost on the great ship. That the words
    South Street Seaport Museum are mounted on the lighthouse’s base gloomily
    suggests that the museum’s fate may parallel that of the 1912 tragedy.

  • harrison

    HHC should bring in Manhattan Sailing Club for that marina – – – it’s sailing school and children’s camp would be a major plus for the neighborhood