Landmarks panel mustn’t kill historic district’s lifeline

Landmarks panel mustn’t kill historic district’s lifeline

04/04/2021

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“Without the museum, there is no historic district,” City Councilwoman Margaret Chin rightly told the Landmarks Preservation Commission in January in support of the plan to build at 250 Water Street in the South Street Seaport Historic District.

The Howard Hughes Corp. would create a substantial endowment to fund reopening of the museum as it builds a 27-story building on what’s now a parking lot. A quarter of the new apartments would be affordable housing, while the base area has been reduced and redesigned in cooperation with the commission.

But opponents are trying to get the commission to block the plan at its meeting Tuesday, pretending a single building would destroy the area’s character.

In fact, it’s just a few neighbors out to protect their waterfront views without raising the cash to buy the site themselves, let alone the funds to save the museum (though they’ve claimed to have a rescue plan for years now).

Vested interests all too often abuse the city’s landmarking laws in such selfish ways, but this case is especially ripe because the museum and its ships are, as Chin noted, the raison d’être for the historic district.

Neighborhoods need to live, and reopening the museum will help revitalize lockdown-slammed local businesses, bars and restaurants, and attract new ones to now-empty storefronts. It’s madness to sentence the area to decay simply to save a few well-off residents’ view of the harbor.

The 250 Water Street project would preserve the artifacts of the city’s rich maritime history while setting the neighborhood on the road to recovery post-COVID. Blocking it would betray the real purpose of the landmarking laws.

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