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Long before Hurricane Sandy destroyed the Seaport area in the lowermost tip of Manhattan, the region was a no-man’s land. The Pier 17 strip mall was failing, as were the other nearby retail companies and various museums. The reason for the blight was a lack of residential real estate.
If people do not actually live in a region, no enterprise can thrive. After the global financial collapse off 2008, stores in the Seaport began boarding up windows just like Detroit, Las Vegas, Miami, and most other cities. Hurricane Sandy was just the nail in the coffin.
Actually, the devastating flood caused by the massive storm on October 29th, 2012, should have created a great opportunity to rebuild and drastically redesign the Seaport and Financial District. Instead, the ghost town created by inept local leadership has allowed the real estate parasites to move in, jeopardizing the future of the Seaport.
Howard Hughes Corporation is the publicly traded real state company that has been the target of outrage by local residents. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, it was created as a spinoff company from a larger failed strip-mall company that went bankrupt in 2010.
The CEO of Howard Hughes is David Weinreb. The Chairman is hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman who owns approximately 10% of Howard Hughes through his investment company.
The man appointed to be the spokesperson for the Howard Hughes Seaport project is 52-year old Christopher Curry. He is the “Executive VP of Development” earning more than $750,000 in salary.
BatteryPark.TV has listened carefully to the hundreds of protestors who made speeches at Community Board meetings over the last few years, opposing the Howard Hughes construction plans. We concluded that the “historical” value of the Seaport is really just a tin shed fish market, and that the need to build residential apartment buildings was vital. Therefore, we reached out to Mr. Curry to assist him.
Meanwhile, the newly elected city officials, led by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer had something to say on the matter. She created a “Seaport Task Force” that halted all progress on the Howard Hughes site that had been allowed under the Mayor Bloomberg administration.
BatteryPark.TV met Mr. Curry for lunch to get to know him better, and size him up. He seemed like a typical real estate executive; conservative, low appetite for risk, and overly reliant on clueless public relations and government affairs companies that he had hired. He seemed to expect the Gale Brewer opposition task force to blow over if he placated them, laid low, while also paying the right lobbyists behind the scenes.
It is now almost June, three months later, and the Seaport task force is still obstructing development. BatteryPark.TV has made several attempts to help Howard Hughes by involving them in highly popular projects, to no avail.
We tried to engage Mr. Curry in a fledgling effort that local residents were organizing as a daytime counterpart to the evening July 4th fireworks. The events will focus on the historical landmarks near the Seaport, Federal Hall, and Battery Park. However, Mr. Curry seemed utterly disinterested, despite the project being backed by the National Parks Service and Downtown Alliance.
BatteryPark.TV then gave Howard Hughes an opportunity to greatly improve healthcare delivery Downtown, by building a small urgent care clinic. The concept is being adopted across the country as the ACA (Obamacare) law has created a shortage of primary care doctors. However, proving the tenet “No good deed goes unpunished” once again to be accurate, this sophisticated idea went flying right over Mr. Curry’s head. He did not bother to read the executive summary sent to him. He did promise to “send it to the right people”.
School classroom shortages are at the crisis level in Downtown. The region has grown more than any other metropolitan area in the country, yet no new schools have been constructed since the Peck Slip PS343. Every year, hundreds of pre-K kids Downtown are placed on waitlists to get into kindergarten.
Compounding the classroom shortages is the irresponsible construction of 800-feet-high apartment buildings in FiDi and the Seaport, none of which have bothered to build school spaces within them (Unlike the PS 397 in the Gehry building on Spruce Street, or PS 267 on the Millennium building in Battery Park).
One of those irresponsible high-rise developments will be the monstrosity at Pier 17 that the Howard Hughes Corporation tried to hide from the community. Crassly juxtaposed to the Brooklyn Bridge, standing 60-floors at last count (the slippery plans are ever-changing), there are no plans to incorporate a school into the project.
When BatteryPark.TV met with Mr. Curry, we explained how building a school might be a good way to convert the pitchfork mob into allies. Mr. Curry’s reply was, “We spoke with the Department of Education about that, and they did not seem interested.”. That seems quite unbelievable.
The Howard Hughes Corporation has done the worst job of dealing with the community that BatteryPark.TV has ever witnessed. Even the Poulakakos team running Pier-A have been able to win over the local officials.
What is the problem?
Perhaps the Howard Hughes Corp. Seaport debacle is caused by the CEO, who sits in Dallas, Texas, being unfamiliar with how New York works, or simply uncaring. Perhaps the problem is specific to the ineptness of Mr. Curry.
Who knows? But the bottom line is that the Seaport community does not seem to be in the right hands with The Howard Hughes Corporation.