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1 0 1 LA FA YET TE ST, 9 TH F LOO R

THE COUNCIL OF NE W YO RK, NY 1 0 01 3


THE CITY OF NEW YORK 2 1 2 -58 7 -31 5 9 PHO NE

2 5 0 B RO ADW AY , S U ITE 1 76 2
MARGARET S. CHIN NE W YO RK, NY 1 0 00 7
2 1 2 -78 8 -72 5 9 PHO NE
COUNCIL MEMBER, 1 DISTRICT, MANHATTAN
ST

CH IN @ CO UNCI L. NY C.G O V

December 31, 2020

Joint Testimony from the Office of Council Member Margaret S. Chin and the Office of
the Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer
Comments on the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) Certificate of
Appropriateness Applications:
• 89 South Street (175 John Street): Block 74, Lot 1 (LPC-21-04480)
• 250 Water Street: Block 98, Lot 1 (LPC-21-03235)

We write this letter in support of the two applications in the South Street Seaport Historic
District (the “Historic District”). The first is for a new building addition to the South Street
Seaport Museum (the “Museum”) on an existing parking lot located at 89 South Street (175 John
Street) and for alterations to the Museum’s existing buildings on Block 74. The second
application is for a new residential building to be constructed on the parking lot at 250 Water
Street on Block 98.

South Street Seaport Historic District


The ever-evolving South Street Seaport Historic District, nestled in the East River waterfront of
lower Manhattan, is a site of historic significance and has played an important role in the history
of New York City. From its beginnings in the mid-to-late 17th century, the Historic District was
a leading port and commercial center. By the mid-19th century, the Historic District was home to
a number of architecturally significant buildings, exemplified by several different styles of
mercantile architecture including Georgian, Federal and Greek Revival designs.

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Efforts to preserve the culture, history and structures of the South Street Seaport neighborhood
resulted in the creation of the South Street Seaport Museum in 1967. The establishment is not
only credited with being the anchor in the creation of the South Street Seaport Historic District,
but also responsible for the restoration of many of the historic buildings of the area. Some of
these buildings are occupied by the Museum today and are once again in need of restoration
work.

In addition to the Museum’s efforts to preserve the South Street Seaport area, the City has taken
several significant steps to preserve the history and architectural significance of the
neighborhood’s buildings, such as creating the City’s first and only functioning transfer of
development rights bank in 1972. In 1977 the Historic District was designated and in 1989 it was
expanded. Those actions have allowed for a careful balance between the preservation of the
District’s historic character and new development. Low-density, historically significant buildings
and pedestrian areas remain closer to the waterfront and taller buildings have been constructed
farther inland.

Our offices began engaging the Seaport community in 2014 with the formation of the Seaport
Working Group. This group was re-established in 2018 as the Seaport Advisory Group, which
includes elected officials and members of City agencies, Community Board 1, Save Our Seaport,
and other stakeholders. Previously, the Seaport Advisory Group met in several roundtable
discussions to address Seaport area issues including historic preservation, economic
development, and environmental resiliency.

With this unique history and urban context in mind, we turn to the two separate applications
before the Commission. It is important to note that together, these two applications present the
City with the unique opportunity to complete and preserve the South Street Seaport Historic
District and its Museum by developing the remaining two vacant lots within the Historic District.
These two lots are currently non-contributing sites in the fabric of the Historic District that are
uniquely situated to frame, enhance, and preserve the South Street Seaport area for future
generations.

89 South Street (175 John Street) Application (LPC-21-04480)


The South Street Seaport Museum is seeking to restore its battered buildings on Schermerhorn
Row and construct a new building with additional gallery space on the parking lot located behind
the Museum on John Street. The Museum has played a pivotal role in the preservation of the rich
history of the Seaport. Since its inception, the Museum was an avid advocate of preservation and
is in large part responsible for the creation of the Historic District. As stated in the 1977 South
Street Seaport Historic District Designation Report:

“The South Street Seaport Museum, founded in 1967, has been highly instrumental in
revitalizing this area. Under the auspices of the Museum, several of the old brick

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buildings have been accurately restored and some now house the offices and stores of the
Museum… Through the efforts of the Museum, many have become increasingly aware of
the richness, diversity and great historical significance of the South Street Seaport.”

The Museum’s Master Plan, created in 1969 and updated in 1974 (prior to the designation of the
Historic District in 1977), envisioned a campus for the Museum, the preservation of the low-
density historic buildings closer to the waterfront, and the development of taller buildings farther
inland. Overall, the Museum’s application serves to create the cohesive Museum campus
foreseen in the 1974 Master Plan by preserving and restoring the battered historic buildings
along Fulton and South Streets, improving accessibility, and incorporating sustainability in its
design.

The Museum’s proposal successfully blends old and new architectural elements. The proposed
new building harmonizes well with the Museum’s existing buildings in its massing and design,
and complements the cobblestone streets and textured facades throughout the Historic District.
By shifting the current entrance of the Museum from the mid-block at Fulton Street to the corner
of South Street and Fulton Street, the Museum will be more identifiable to visitors who will be
able to experience a seamless transition from the neighborhood’s historic frontage into its new
gallery spaces. The proposed glass bridge will connect the old and the new buildings. It will also
provide a vantage point for visitors to view the waterfront and the Museum’s collection of ships.
The Museum’s plans to use wood as its primary architectural material for the new gallery space,
inspired by the use of wood in the historical buildings, will provide a warm inviting atmosphere
for visitors to experience the artifacts and rich history of the area. Furthermore, wood
construction creates a more sustainable, carbon neutral building.

We find that the façade and fenestration for the proposed new Museum building will blend well
with the historic buildings on Schermerhorn Row and other buildings on the same block. The use
of copper for the exterior of the building, inspired by copper plated timber ships, is an evocative
nod to the Museum’s maritime focus and complements other metal buildings on the waterfront,
such as the nearby Tin Building. The proposed fading of the original copper tone to a rich and
deep green patina over the years makes the Museum an even more striking and exciting addition
to the Historic District. Finally, the arches on the ground floor of the Museum’s new building
will add a visually pleasing element to its design and complement the arches found at other
historic buildings in the area. The addition of the new Museum building will help to fulfill the
vision of the Museum’s founders and provide an architecturally appropriate transition from the
waterfront inland toward the rest of Historic District.

250 Water Street Application (LPC-21-03235)


The site at 250 Water Street, which sits on a full city block, is the largest vacant site within a
historic district in New York City. The parking lot is located at the edge of the South Street
Seaport Historic District and has been used as such since the designation of the Historic District

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in 1977. Developing this non-contributing site would be in line with the 1969 Museum Master
Plan, which predicted a building with more density and two towers that would serve as a
transition towards the low masonry buildings closer to the waterfront.

The proposed new building with its low contextual street wall and setback towers would create
an enhanced experience for pedestrians at the edge of the Historic District. It is not dissimilar to
other buildings in the area that serve as the backdrop to the Historic District.

The proposed building’s design with its brick exterior, fenestration, window patterns, post, and
lintel design for its street level storefronts are compatible with the rest of the Historic District,
and are appropriately inspired by the masonry, storefronts, and windows of nearby historical
buildings. In addition, the proposed color variation for the brick façade and its undulating pattern
will not only provide texture to its design, but will also harmonize the design with other building
façades throughout the Historic District. The lighter toned brick proposed for the two towers and
the outdoor space to set the towers farther back from the rest of the Historic District will not
impact the pedestrian experience at the building’s base.

Conclusion
While there may be outstanding design issues which we trust the Commission will address in its
review, these two symbiotic applications are essential to the future of the South Street Seaport
Historic District and the South Street Seaport Museum, both of which have made vital
contributions to our City’s history and continue to do so. These two projects will complete,
enhance, and support the neighborhood and the Museum in a way the City had envisioned
decades ago.

The potential proposed improvements to the surrounding area through these two applications
would be a welcome addition to the Historic District. We look forward to hearing more from the
Applicant and working with other City agencies as these two projects progress.