General Growth Properties doesn’t have specific plans for the South Street Seaport yet, but was greeted with anxiety and plenty of opinions from residents of Lower Manhattan just the same.
The real estate investment trust presented its preliminary studies of the South Street Seaport, a retail hub-come-tourist trap on the East River of Manhattan, off of the financial district, in a public forum Monday night. More than 100 people crammed into the community room of a residential complex across the street from the site, which General Growth acquired when it bought The Rouse Co. in late 2004.
“We are genuinely interested in contributing to the renewal of Lower Manhattan,” Michael McNaughton, vice president of asset management for the REIT, assured the crowd. “We want to create a vibrant, active, 24-hour site that meets your needs.”
Though the company didn’t propose specific plans, it did lay out its goals for the redevelopment, including preserving the historic nature of the site, opening up the Fulton Street corridor to the water, creating more open public spaces and adding more neighborhood services and quality retail and cultural attractions. It also offered up some possibilities for how the site could be configured, including moving the historic Tin Building to the waterfront and offering differently sized buildings and the subsequent availability of open space.
Residents plied the company with questions, including when the project would break ground, how long it would take to build, whether or not residential high rises would be a part of the new Seaport and what kinds of new cultural uses and retail tenants the company would bring to the neighborhood. One of the main complaints voiced at the meeting was that a commercial development wouldn’t address the neighborhood’s biggest needs, including basic infrastructure such as schools and playing fields.
According to McNaughton, gross sales at the existing Seaport have been in decline since 1989. One of the challenges of the site is that it is subject to seven different zoning laws and is “one of the most legislated” pieces of land in New York City, said one of the architects working with General Growth.
“This is a long process, and this is just the beginning,” said McNaughton.