South Street Seaport Redevelopment

When General Growth Properties (GGP) acquired the Rouse Company for $7 billion in 2004, the Chicago-based mall operator absorbed ownership of the South Street Seaport along the East River of Manhattan. Years later, in 2008, GGP unveiled a plan by SHoP Architects to redevelop the Seaport into a mixed-use waterfront destination.

GGP proposed demolishing the 1980s-era shopping mall that currently inhabits Pier 17, and new construction of a 42-story apartment and hotel, 30,000 square feet of community space, and 424,000 square feet of retail space. GGP, who planned to break ground by 2010 and finish by 2014, touted the proposal as doubling the amount of public open space, qualifying for Silver LEED certification, bringing 2,100 permanent jobs, and creating 5,750 full-time-equivalent construction positions.

The proposal also included plans to restore the Tin Building, a hub of the historic Fulton Fish Market which was partially destroyed by a fire in 1995, and also to move it from under the FDR Freeway to the water’s edge at the end of Pier 17. The SHoP Architects’ plan also included waterfront esplanades that would connect with the future East River Waterfront Park.

While there was negligible opposition to the demolition of the mall on Pier 17, members of the community, local Community Board 1, and the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) expressed serious concerns about other parts of the plan. Many believed that the design included new buildings which were too tall and bulky to be contextual in the historic district, which was built in the 19th century and landmarked in 1977.

While the LPC did not comment on the proposed 42-story tower because it is outside of the historic district, the Commission expressed concern that GGP’s concept of moving the Tin Building’s location altered the building’s architectural feel. GGP argued that due to the fire, the renovations of various owners, and added construction over the years, the Tin Building was neither architecturally historic nor situated in its original place along the waterfront. GGP said it would restore the building according to its original design and construction materials and reclaim its waterfront placement.

In part because GGP promised to include a new school into its development plans, many in the community began favoring the proposal and Community Board 1 approved the plan during ULURP in November of 2008. However, throughout this time, the LPC continually criticized GGP’s plan, despite never bringing the matter to a formal vote. After the Department of Education determined that a school was not needed in the area, general community support for the project dwindled.

Amidst this back-and-forth with the community, the press reported that GGP’s financial position deteoriated significantly. GGP had experienced tremendous growth during the height of the real estate boom and had aggressively acquired more than 200 malls in 44 states. Yet as the market began to cool, GGP could not keep up with its growing debt.

In December of 2008, GGP tried to sell the South Street Seaport along with Faneuil Hall & Quincy Market in Boston and Harborplace & the Gallery in Baltimore, receiving bids as high as $400 million for the combined properties. However, no sales agreements were ever reached. On April 16, 2009, GGP filed for bankruptcy, having compiled more than $27 billion in short-term debt.

The South Street Seaport mall, with 285,847 square feet of retail space, continues to operate at 94.3% occupancy amidst GGP’s bankruptcy, though plans for the area’s redevelopment have been placed on hold indefinitely. In 2010, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D), and a coalition of community advocates and business leaders, expressed interest in a public market at the former Fulton Fish Market in lower Manhattan. GGP said it would be open to a public market but no specific plans have been unveiled.

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