LaValva and Howard Hughes Corp. joust over Seaport’s future

Community Board 1’s May 15 Seaport-Civic Center Committee meeting on May 15 had to be moved to the community room at Southbridge Towers to accommodate the scores of people who attended. Downtown Express photos by Terese Loeb Kreuzer

Robert LaValva, founder of the New Amsterdam Market on South Street.

BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER  |  Robert LaValva, the founder of the New Amsterdam Market on South Street, was cheered by a room full of local supporters last week when he asked for their help to develop a plan to house a year-round market in the Tin Building and New Market Building, the former homes of the Fulton Fish Market.

The community room at Southbridge Towers, where Community Board 1’s Seaport-Civic Center Committee was held, was packed with market vendors, local residents and representatives of elected officials who want to see LaValva’s seven-year-old New Amsterdam Market continue to grow.

But looming over the meeting was the possibility that the Howard Hughes Corp., which holds a long-term lease over Pier 17 and other parts of the South Street Seaport, has a different plan.

Committee chair John Fratta read aloud a letter he had received from Christopher Curry, senior executive vice president for Howard Hughes, in which he reiterated previous statements that Howard Hughes has “a non-binding letter of intent” with the Economic Development Corp., enabling the corporation to propose a new development on the site where the historic Tin and New Market buildings are situated.

While he didn’t disclose specifics about possible plans for the site, Curry said in his letter that Howard Hughes intends to create a “vibrant marketplace, featuring a variety of fresh and prepared foods with an emphasis on local and regional products and purveyors” inside the redesigned Link Building on Pier 17.

Howard Hughes previously met with LaValva to explore the opportunity of a more permanent home for New Amsterdam Market.

LaValva had turned them down, according to Curry.

As a result, Curry is now on the look-out for other operators, according to the letter.

Fratta questioned LaValva’s response to Curry, asking, “Can you explain why that space wasn’t any good?”

LaValva replied that the Fulton Fish Market was “a site we’re interested in preserving and revitalizing.”

“It’s not really an issue about not wanting to be a tenant of Howard Hughes,” he said. “It’s an issue about preserving that space. That’s been the focus of what we’re trying to do.”

LaValva envisions using the Tin and New Market buildings as a venue for a public market to promote local and regional economic development. The market, in his vision, would house traditional food preparations such as baking, butchering and fresh dairy production. It would also serve as a distribution center for Lower Manhattan restaurants and shops that are increasingly seeking regional ingredients, he said.

Additionally, LaValva sees the market functioning as a center for education, because “the kinds of vendors that we have are reviving and preserving very old traditions — things that people from all over the world want to learn,” he said.

While recognizing that both the Tin and New Market buildings require significant repairs, “we have a unique opportunity at this moment,” LaValva said. “There is a pool of $785 million in New York State regional economic development funding that is available for exactly these kinds of projects — especially those that foster inter-regional economic development, which is what the market does.”

Former Seaport resident Barbara Mensch, who photographed and wrote about the area during the Fulton Fish Market years, asked the C.B. 1 Seaport Committee what ideas Howard Hughes has in mind for the South Street Seaport.

“None,” Fratta replied.

While the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved Howard Hughes’s plans to demolish the existing structure on Pier 17 and replace it with a glass-sheathed mall, the future direction and development of the Seaport as a whole is still up in the air, he explained.

“As of right now, the only presentation they made to us was about Pier 17,” said Fratta. “We’ve been asking for a master plan. They’re not ready with a master plan, but they did say as soon as it’s ready, they will be meeting with us.”

Fratta added, “We hope that master plan will be coming sooner rather than later. This parcel over here could either make or break our community.”

Fratta suggested that LaValva meet with representatives of Howard Hughes — if they are willing — and the E.D.C. “to see how we can work something out in an amicable way.”

LaValva agreed to attend the proposed meeting, but as of earlier this week, he had heard nothing further about it.

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