HHC: Obstructionists Losing in Efforts to Stop Seaport Progress

HHC: Obstructionists Losing in Efforts to Stop Seaport Progress
HHC Save Our Seaport

HHC: Obstructionists Losing in Efforts to Stop Seaport Progress

The post Obstructionists Losing in Efforts to Stop Seaport Progress appeared first on ValuePlays.

Give this a read through and think about. I’ll post my comments throughout..

From DNAinfo:

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SOUTH STREET SEAPORT — Local preservationists have accused the city and the Howard Hughes Corporation of allowing two historic Fulton Fish Market warehouses to fall into disrepair as an easy means to justify tearing them down.

The abandoned New Market Building and Tin Building, which is landmarked, will each have a portion of their structure torn down by the city — because they are in “danger of collapse,” Economic Development Corporation spokeswoman Kelly Magee said.

The sudden news of the what the city calls “emergency work” — first reported by Crain’s — came as a shock to community leaders and activists, who have long fought to preserve those buildings.

Several preservationists point to a 2010 EDC inspection obtained by DNAinfo New York that detailed the decay of the buildings, and determined that more than $10 million was need to repair the buildings. Those repairs were never made.

“I see it as benign neglect,” said Michael Kramer, a Community Board 1 member and member of the preservationist group Save Our Seaport. “The city has put no money into these buildings, and allowed them to deteriorate — they knew they were decaying and now they have to demolish.”

Well, of course no one has put any money into them. Why? Every single attempt to do anything with them has been met by opposition by Kramer and his ilk. GGP tried to do something with the area and HHC has been trying since they were spun from GGP in 2010. EVERY single effort has been met with a “no” from preservationists. What would be the point of a developer or the city putting a dime into them when each attempt to do something substantial to the area is met with opposition? Why would the city plow $10M into the building just to stabilize the pier when there was no concrete plan in place as to what would eventually happen to the buildings? It would be an irresponsible waste of taxpayer dollars to do otherwise.

Now, had these folks actually worked with instead of obstructed every effort to improve the Seaport, perhaps there would have been a plan in place at which point the city would have looked at it and decided making the investment was a wise decision.

What about the developers? Should they be required to plow millions into deteriorating buildings with no idea if that investment would ever see a return? Who do these “preservationists” think they are? What gives them the right to demand millions of dollars of public or private investment without giving some type of assurance to those entities making that investment that the money would not be completely wasted? It is a stunning display of entitlement and lack of respect for property rights. HHC OWNS that land. For these people to dictate a massive investment without any consideration is unconscionable.

Like I recently said, the true irony is that had these folks even been the least bit cooperative over the last few years, the tin building would already be being restored by HHC, they’d be getting both the middle school, the market and affordable housing they desperately need there and the Seaport area would be materially improved. However, their patent blind opposition to any sort of progress ensured what they wanted to avoid, the unavoidable destruction of the buildings……

Well done……

The city is planning the partial demolition of each building’s “cooler” areas — sheds that run along the backs of the structures — for later this summer. If it’s determined by structural engineers that the buildings remain unsound, the warehouses may have to be completely torn down. Any demolition will need approval from city and state agencies, Magee said.

For some local activists, the seemingly abrupt action seems part of a larger problem — a lack of transparency when it comes to the redevelopment of the Seaport.

The warehouses, relics of the Seaport’s fish mongering days, sit at the base of Pier 17, which is being completely rebuilt by the Howard Hughes Corporation and will be redeveloped into a sleek, glass outdoor mall.

The Hughes Corporation also has plans, which have not gone through the city land approval process yet, to build a massive, controversial luxury tower where one of the warehouses, the New Market Building, now sits.

While the New Market Building would be torn down as part of the company’s proposed redevelopment, the company said they would preserve the Tin Building — but they would move it about 30 feet from where it now sits, taking it out from underneath the FDR Drive. The company declined to comment about whether the city’s actions would affect their plans to move the Tin Building.

One group, the Friends of the South Street Seaport, said they fear that the work on Pier 17 has led, in part, to the unsound state of the fish market buildings. They recently sent a letter to the Army Corp of Engineers, asking for oversight and review of the Pier 17 complex.

The group said they were “objecting to back-room bait-and-switch tactics that routinely bypass legally required consultation and permitting processes.”

For activists to call this a “lack of transparency” is on its face, laughable. There have been countless public meetings over the past few years it and they have included members of all areas of local government. The process has been painfully transparent with anyone having an opinion given time to talk at these meetings.  Here is the bottom line. People knew the buildings and their pier needed investment or they were at risk of being in the state they currently are. Rather than work on that and move forward, activist continued to stonewall. So, now you are where we are now. This isn’t a case of “back room decisions”, it is simply a case of people refusing to see reality and a small group of very vocal self interested people putting their own agenda ahead of what is best for the entire Seaport.

Howard Hughes Corporation calls those claims “simply wrong on the facts.”

“The Howard Hughes Corporation is currently constructing its [Uniform Land Use Review Process] approved Pier 17 project and all of its construction activities are being conducted with the necessary permits from the appropriate governmental agencies,” Chris Curry, senior executive of development for HHC said in an emailed statement. “[The buildings and Pier 17 project] are not on the same structure and there is not an integrated piling infrastructure. There has been no impact on those structures from the Pier 17 work.”

A variety of community groups, including Community Board 1, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, the Historic Districts Council and Save Our Seaport recently also recently sent a letter to the mayor’s office, saying they are “deeply troubled” by the “egregious absence of transparency and public review of the plans for the Seaport.”

They are asking for a “pause to all activity” before they can see the “developer’s full plan for the Seaport.”

Seriously? “See the developer’s whole plan”? This is pure desperation. HHC has laid out their plan for the area at least a half dozen times in front of every one of these groups and the public. Here is the problem. The “plan” keeps changing because the above mentioned groups come up with a new complaint each time “the plan” is laid out.  The tower pays for everything these folks need down there. They just want everything without compromising on anything else. Well, life doesn’t work that way.

“Past developers have not delivered promised revenues or district-wide revitalization,” wrote Peg Breen, the President of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, who penned the letter. “We fear that the current absence of comprehensive planning allows development to head in the wrong direction again and squander the potential of this remarkable resource. We demand an opportunity to get this right.”

“Past developers”. That has as much to do with what is happening now at the Seaport  as the tonnage of bat guano dropped in the Nevada desert does. For those confused it has nothing to do with it. Why not just simply take a look at the body of work Weinreb and the folks at HHC have done in Hawaii, Vegas, Houston, New Orleans, Maryland etc and judge them on that vs the actions of other “past developers”? I can only surmise that obstructionists are not doing that because doing so would render this infantile objection moot? When the person you are engaged with has done nothing wrong, I guess make the argument about the past actions of others? Ms Breen should be embarrassed to be making that argument.

Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, said that safety was the top concern for the city, but that the decision to tear down portions of the buildings does not “alter the city’s commitment to work collaboratively with all local stakeholders on a plan to revitalize the Seaport and preserve its maritime heritage.”

“EDC and the administration reached out to all elected officials about this difficult decision and informed them of the dangerous structural conditions developing at the site—even extending an offer to personally inspect the new cracks threatening the structures,” Norvell said. “Safety is our top priority, and years of neglect and disrepair finally have reached a critical juncture that must be addressed to prevent risk to the public.”

As I’ve said since the beginning, this all with eventually go through. It won’t happen because of the slew of conspiracy theories obstructionists will toss around. It will go through because it really is what is best for the Seaport area. These folks have been given their 15min of fame  in an effort to come to some type of consensus. They have steadfastly refused every attempt at compromise. What is worse, they have done so without providing any type of remotely realistic alternative. Saying “No” as your basic stance isn’t a position an adult takes in a negotiation, it is the position of a 5 year old.


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Todd Sullivan is a Massachusetts-based value investor and a General Partner in Rand Strategic Partners. He looks for investments he believes are selling for a discount to their intrinsic value given their current situation and future prospects. He holds them until that value is realized or the fundamentals change in a way that no longer support his thesis. His blog features his various ideas and commentary and he updates readers on their progress in a timely fashion. His commentary has been seen in the online versions of the Wall St. Journal, New York Times, CNN Money, Business Week, Crain’s NY, Kiplingers and other publications. He has also appeared on Fox Business News & Fox News and is a RealMoney.com contributor. His commentary on Starbucks during 2008 was recently quoted by its Founder Howard Schultz in his recent book “Onward”. In 2011 he was asked to present an investment idea at Bill Ackman’s “Harbor Investment Conference”.
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