Whatever happens, good riddance to the Pier 17 mall.
Plan would raze South Street Seaport mall
By Michael Clancy, amNewYork City Editor
February 23, 2007
South Street Seaport's Pier 17 will most likely be razed to make way for a mixed-use retail, residential and open space development, a spokeswoman for the property's leaseholder said Thursday.
Though the company is exploring a range of options, the three-story shopping mall named for the pier it was built on will likely be demolished, said Cheri Fein, a spokeswoman for General Growth Properties, a Chicago-based real estate company that owns and operates more than 200 malls nationwide. Fein did not elaborate on the specific plans.
Asked how high a new structure might go, Fein, of the public relations firm Rubenstein Associates, said: "The lower you go, the less open space there is -- but nothing has been decided."
"There is also the recognition that it is not just a land-bound place," she said. "We want to make it 360 [degrees], so that it can be reached by the ferry as well."
But according to one person familiar with the developer's initial plan, General Growth is considering a tall iconic building for the site, and would also build a ferry landing and relocate the landmark "Tin Building" of the former Fulton Fish Market. The rest of the pier would be left as open space.
Preliminary concepts for the pier and the former fish market will be discussed publicly for the first time on Monday, when General Growth, which acquired the East River site in 2004, meets with Community Board 1 to get feedback on its nascent plans.
Waterfront advocates said General Growth should be given a fair chance to articulate a vision for reviving the site.
"We look at the Seaport as emblematic of every waterfront neighborhood today -- caught in the middle of looking back at the past and looking forward to the future," said Carter Craft, director of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance. "The synergy between commerce and maritime history has always been the vision but it has just eluded everybody thus far."
On Monday, the company will reveal some basic mapping for the site to begin a dialogue about the project, which does not have a timetable, Fein said.
"The ideas are for a mixed-use place that will provide services to the residential community, to the business community, to New Yorkers as a whole, and to visitors to the city -- in that order, whereas the plan by \[prior owners\] went in the reverse order," said Fein.
It's too soon to say what kind of zoning approval, if any, General Growth would need to build, because the site lies within a number of special zoning, national, local, historic and landmark districts, said Jennifer Torres, a spokeswoman for the Department of City Planning.
Most waterfront advocates would not shed any tears over the loss of the Pier 17 mall, a mix of chain stores, restaurants and specialty shops completed in 1983.
The mall obstructs the view of the Brooklyn Bridge and is a cumbersome structure, said Lee Gruzen, of SeaportSpeaks, a group of local stakeholders.
Thus far, she said, General Growth has done a great job of working with the community.
"The future of the Seaport is grounded in bringing its maritime history to life in a way that benefits those who work, live and visit there," Gruzen said.
Whatever happens, good riddance to the Pier 17 mall.
Joint Seaport/Civic Center and Waterfront Committees
DATE: Monday, February 26, 2007
TIME: 6:00 PM
Southbridge Towers Community Room
90 Beekman Street
1) Presentation by General Growth Properties on South Street Seaport development
I might go there and act a fool since I hate CB 1.
Well-scripted, room was packed and they got us out in a reasonable amount of time. The GGP people can say that they were listening, the old-timers can say that it's too big, and the present tenants can say that they're getting shafted. Along with the Seaport Museum that had been dealt out of the picture pre-GGP by the City.
The powerpoint went by very quickly, especially the slide that talked about an FAR of 10 if residential only 2 if commercial. Potential buildable sf of 2.5MM with a 100k sf open space requirement. CB1 spoke elegantly about the need for amenities to absorb the expanding residential base.
So, 50 stories blocking Beekman Street, 160' foundations to find bedrock.
No cultural institutions beyond window-dressing and very little details at this time. Quote of the night (paraphrased) was that the view might be blocked looking at Manhattan from the Brooklyn side.
Over at Peck Slip.
Seaport residents say Peck plan won’t sail
By Skye H. McFarlane
The Parks Department’s new plan for a “ghost ship” piazza at Peck Slip was torpedoed Tuesday night by several Community Board 1 members, who criticized the design as unwelcoming and lacking in greenery.
“This is an outrage,” said Seaport Committee chairperson John Fratta, halting the Parks representatives partway through their presentation. “We’re seeing a piazza with a few trees and you’re calling it green space.”
Although many members of the committee and the public praised the design for its good architectural quality and use of historic materials, only two people at the meeting said they would like the design to go forward. The committee voted unanimously to reject the plans and asked Parks to come back with a design that balances historic character with landscaped park space, as the board had asked for in its October 2006 resolution on the matter.
Somewhat baffled by the rebuff, Lawrence Mauro of the Parks Department said that the design team “might have misinterpreted” what the community wanted in the space. For several months last year, the community board wrestled over whether to ask for a park or a piazza at Peck Slip, eventually requesting a combination of the two. Mauro described the benches, trees and sunken center of the design as concessions to the park proponents, since many piazza backers had wanted a flat, unencumbered space.
“We want to work with you. I absolutely heard what you said at previous meetings,” Mauro said, sounding genuinely hurt by the community’s reaction.
The design, intended to evoke a ship with its bow pointed inland toward the narrow end of the triangular-shaped park, includes 12 trees — four in a line to the east of Front St. and eight more in a cluster to the west of Front St., which bisects the park geographically but would not be open to thru traffic under the current plan. The eastern, wider portion of the site would be sunken below street level, giving park users some separation from the traffic around them.
The bottom of the sunken area would be paved with the same granite cobblestone blocks that currently cover the slip, but the blocks would be rearranged in an undulating pattern and mixed with flecks of glass to resemble a “rushing stream.” Underneath the streamlike pattern of stones, a current of actual water would flow, emptying into a small 4-inch-deep wading pool at the western end of the basin. The water would also be seen under metal grates on the sides of the basin and could be heard by plaza visitors.
To the west of the sunken basin, at street level, granite benches would sit under the trees. This shaded westernmost third of the park would taper to a tall stone spire with a light on top, representing the ship’s prow. In the committee’s least-favorite design element, the northern edge of the park would be lined with rib-shaped vertical steel posts that the landscape architects said “represent the ghosts of ships that might have docked there in the past.” In practical terms, the ribs would function as traffic barriers.
“This is going to look like a memorial to the Arizona or Hiroshima or something,” said committee member Paul Hovitz, finding the maritime theme more chilly than charming.
The committee argued that the Parks Department designers had ignored the needs of the Seaport’s growing residential community. Instead, committee members said, Parks had geared its Peck Slip plans towards gaining approval from preservationists, some of whom think that trees and greenery are out of context in the famously gritty historic district.
Any design for the former docking slip, which currently serves as a free-for-all parking area, will have to be approved by both the city Landmarks Preservation Commission and State Historic Preservation Office. The city Department of Transportation, which is revamping the curbs and cobblestone streets in the slip, already had one of its plans rejected by L.P.C.
Board member Noel Jefferson, who sits on C.B. 1’s Landmarks Committee, said Tuesday that the design was historically inappropriate not because of its trees, but because of its harsh, futuristic feel. Roger Byrom, who chairs the Landmarks Committee, said Wednesday that he wasn’t surprised the Seaport Committee had rejected the design. On March 8, the Landmarks Committee passed a resolution supporting the design’s nod to maritime history but calling upon the architects to make the space warmer and consider the needs of area residents. Byrom said that the full board would likely keep the two committees’ resolutions separate, since one represents a strictly architectural set of concerns while the other represents the voice of the neighborhood.
“We are desperate for green space in Lower Manhattan and I don’t think they [city officials] hear us,” said Skip Blumberg, head of Friends of City Hall Park. “They are creating a nightmare city of the future with high density and no place to just breathe.”
Several residents expressed concerns that the park’s nighttime lighting would be too dim. The committee also reiterated worries that the plaza’s sparse, open basin would become a gathering place for street vendors, skateboarders, and performing panhandlers, also known as buskers. The committee first expressed anxiety about potential open space problems during its October meeting, but those concerns never made it into the board’s most recent Peck Slip resolution.
Still, not everyone was displeased with the Parks Department plan. One resident in favor of the piazza said he was tired of park advocates speaking for him. Lee Gruzen, who led the campaign for a lawn-free open piazza as a part of the Seaport Community Coalition, praised the design and asked Parks to continue honoring the slip’s history in its plans for the future.
“You know I’m going to love it,” Gruzen told Mauro, expressing her delight at the creative reuse of the granite block cobblestones. “It’s recognizable as Peck Slip…The warmth and the life will come from the use of it.”
On Wednesday, a Parks Department spokesperson said in an email that the department could not release renderings of the Peck Slip design because “it has not been approved yet and [Parks] will be making some changes.”
AM New York
November 13, 2007
Changes in store for South Street Seaport
By David Freedlander
The South Street Seaport, an area for decades dismissed as "just for tourists," has re-emerged in the forefront of New Yorkers' minds as architects, preservations and local residents wrestle over the waterfront of the future.
It's been two years since the old salts who hawked their wares at the Fulton Fish Market packed up their ice and grime and decamped for the cleaner climes of the Bronx, clearing the way for the neighborhood's transformation.
What the feel of the new Seaport will be is still unknown.
"It needs to be weaved into New York City instead of being its isolated, insulated, little world," said Simeon Bankoff of the Historic District Council. "It's a neighborhood undergoing an immense amount of change, and there are a lot of interesting ideas about how to fill the void."
Plans are moving forward quickly. Already in the works is the development of several new high rise buildings that would allow for both residential and commercial uses.
"I've lived in the area for over 20 years, and 90 percent of the change has happened in the last two years," said Gary Fagin, a neighborhood activist. "You'll forgive the metaphor but it's been a sea change."
Most agree that the Seaport needs to evolve and be re-knitted back into the life of the city while preserving its history, but there is broad disagreement on how to do that.
"There is a strong consensus that this is a special place and needs to be preserved," said Councilman Alan Gerson (D-Manhattan), who represents the area. "This is really New York's last opportunity to preserve our historic, nautical, seafaring roots."
In the 19th century, the area was a bustling and bawdy seaport that inspired Herman Melville's ocean reveries and kept the economic engine of the city churning.
In 1880, the area began a long decline and was set adrift from the city's consciousness.
In 1979, the city leased the land to The Rouse Company, which attempted to turn the area in a historic theme park like Williamsburg, Va. Those plans were never quite realized, but Pier 17 instead became a "festival marketplace," with a mall-like building on top.
Today, the Seaport is a hive of tourists, with more than 4 million people visiting per year, more than even the Statue of Liberty.
But it feels cut-off from the rest of the city, a place reserved for visitors only, according to Heather Mangrum, an architect who is leading an "ideas competition" for young architects with the American Institute of Architects to re-imagine the area.
"There are issues for the city here that need to be resolved," she said. "There is a bunch of old infrastructure, but to me, this is not New York when you see a Gap in a historic building."
In February, General Growth, which acquired The Rouse Company in 2005, announced plans to replace the mall with a 360-foot mixed-use tower, alarming residents who see their neighborhood reflected in the ever-encroaching glass towers of the nearby Financial District. Just up the road, Forest City Ratner is building a 75-story tower designed by Frank Gehry that will house Pace University, New York University hospital outpatient services as well as residences.
General Growth has also talked about building an 835-foot tower designed by the architect Santiago Calatrava across the street from the Seaport featuring townhouses that would go for as much as $59 million, though plans for the building are on hold.
Spokespeople from General Growth and from the city's Economic Development Corporation declined to comment on the specifics of the developments.
Already many 19th century buildings have faced the developer's wrecking ball, most notably 213 Pearl St., New York's original world trade center, which is being replaced by a hotel.
"I know the urge to build and make money out of a piece of real estate is primal in New York, but I think we should save more of the old things," said Jack Putnam, a historian at the South Street Seaport Museum. "An awful lot of 19th century cultural history is wrapped up here. Trendy is OK, but trends come and go."
Changing uses of the Seaport
1815-1860: The Seaport's heyday as a maritime port
1880-1930: Area slowly declines as ships use west side and New Jersey piers
1966: Community group Friends of South Street Maritime Museum rallies to preserve area from condemnation and abandonment
1979: Rouse Company begins redevelopment of area as "Festival Marketplace"
2007: Plans floated to tear down mall and replace it with high-rise towers.
Source: Encyclopedia of New York City
Copyright © 2007, AM New York
Thanks for saying that."There is a bunch of old infrastructure, but to me, this is not New York when you see a Gap in a historic building."
I noticed they are quickly demolishing the two piers between the NY Waterway Ferry landing (pier 11) and the Seaport (pier 17). Anyone know what is going on there?
A one-day public food market will set up shop this Sunday in a spot where the Fulton Fish Market hawked their wares until two years ago. Wintermarket’s organizer, New Amsterdam Public, has two worthy goals: Promote sustainable food and show the South Street Seaport’s desperate need for an engaging market that appeals to residents as well as tourists.
General Growth Properties, which runs the Seaport mall, agrees a permanent food market is desirable and promises to finally deliver its plan to redevelop the area in six months. The firm and its predecessor, Rouse Corp., have said many times over the decades that a spectacular plan to revitalize the neighborhood is right around the corner. While Downtowners wait for that, locals have begun to invigorate Front St. and Peck Slip. But the new retailers need more foot traffic, and residents need vital shopping options such as food. The Seaport can’t be rebuilt in a day, but maybe only a day is needed to see how to do it well.
A glimpse into the Seaport’s future?
Temporary food market has big plans
By Julie Shapiro
Two years after the Fulton Fish Market closed its doors, local food vendors are returning to the Seaport — at least for a day.
This Sunday, Wintermarket will bring harvesters, purveyors and chefs from throughout the northeast to introduce New Yorkers to sustainable, natural food. Modeled on London’s Borough Market, Wintermarket will offer food grown and produced within 500 miles, such as fresh cheeses and shellfish, raw honey, juniper berries, apple cider molasses, winter greens and an entire Black Angus steer, which will be sold in parts.
“We want to bring New Yorkers back to the Seaport,” said Jill Slater, program director and co-founder of non-profit New Amsterdam Public, the event’s organizer.
Slater hopes to create a year-round sustainable market at the Seaport, in the New Market Building and adjacent Tin Building. Since 1642, a market has stood on that site.
“I love that [Wintermarket] harks back to a time when everybody was eating sustainably, locally, because there was no choice,” Slater said. “We want to make sure we don’t lose important parts of agriculture for the sake of efficiency.”
At Wintermarket, visitors will sample dishes created by well-known chefs, including Mario Batali. Batali, a Greenwich Village resident, runs Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca and Del Posto in the Village and Chelsea and frequently appears on the Food Network. Another Wintermarket highlight is the Market Meal, cooked by a communal group of attendees and chefs and served to the guests.
Nova Kim and Les Hook will dig beneath a foot of snow in Vermont to find the foods they will bring to Wintermarket, including mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes, wild ginger and dandelion greens. They are foragers, or “wild crafters,” who harvest food that grows spontaneously in nature.
“We’re trying to raise awareness of what is out there so [people] can have a closer understanding and protect it,” Kim said.
Tom Bivins, executive chef for the New England Culinary Institute, will use Kim and Hook’s findings to prepare a salad of greens with high bush cranberries, rose hips, day lily tubers and a wild ginger vinaigrette.
“People think of wild food as survival food,” Kim said. “[Wintermarket] makes sure people think of it as gourmet.”
Bivins has worked with Kim and Hook for 10 years, crafting recipes around the ingredients they bring him.
“It’s pretty amazing what they’re able to find,” Bivins said. As opposed to supermarket produce, wild foods have “an interesting richness of flavor,” Bivins said. “The textures are different.”
A new trend toward locally grown food is replacing an older trend toward exotic produce flown in from around the world, Bivins said. Amid food contamination scares, consumers are demanding more information about where their food comes from and what is in it.
The growing interest in wild food makes sense, because “Wild is the original organic,” Bivins said. “Politics have finally hit the plate.”
Caroline Fidanza, chef at Marlow and Sons in Williamsburg, is coming to Wintermarket to spread the word on sustainable food.
“Sustainability is the new organic,” Fidanza said. She cooks with local, seasonal ingredients to create dishes for Marlow and Sons, and for Wintermarket she’s making braised beef sandwiches and vegetarian chili.
“We want to support our local economy,” Fidanza said. “It’s a political choice. It’s a moral choice.”
Anne Saxelby, owner of Saxelby Cheesemongers in Essex Market, will be at Wintermarket to sell farmstead cheeses, which are produced on small farms.
“In any big city, the market culture is always a big part of what makes the city vibrant and great,” Saxelby said. “New York doesn’t have anything like that.”
Unlike grocery stores, markets offer a chance to “really talk to someone about what you’re going to be buying and serving,” Saxelby said.
Saxelby hopes the event will spread awareness of sustainable food.
“Our world has been largely built on unsustainable practices,” Saxelby said. “It’s time to start doing things again so we can continue for the next hundreds of years and not make the planet totally burn out. We need to shift to doing things on a smaller scale, with a little more thought toward the earth.”
The future of a permanent market at the South Street Seaport depends on General Growth Properties, which leases much of the area from the Economic Development Corp.
“We continue to be interested in finding a permanent home for a public market somewhere in the Seaport,” said Janell Vaughan, senior general manager for G.G.P. New Amsterdam Public lists General Growth as a supporter on its Web site, and Vaughan confirmed that support. General Growth has not announced development plans, but would not put the market in the New Market or Tin buildings, Vaughan said. She will know more about how the market could fit into General Growth’s plans in three to six months.
Gary Fagin, a Seaport resident and a director of the Seaport Coalition, would like to see the market take up permanent residence in the neighborhood. He has seen the neighborhood change rapidly after the Fulton Fish Market left, and he thinks a market has wide appeal to both recent transplants and longtime residents.
“It’s attractive both to the community of people who miss the fish market and the people who moved down here because the fish market left,” Fagin said.
Amanda Byron Zink, a Seaport resident and a co-owner of The Salty Paw, a dog grooming shop on Peck Slip, has had Wintermarket written on her calendar for months.
“This is a huge bonus for the Seaport,” Zink said. “It’s going to be something everyone sees and wishes was here.”
Wintermarket will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sun., Dec. 16. at South Street Seaport. The events and samples are free, with a $5 suggested donation.
Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel
Mary Pelzer, the South Street Seaport Museum’s executive director, near a harpoon display.
Museum looks to save ship by selling some
Downtown Express photo by Maggie M. Koopmans
The South Street Seaport Museum’s Wavertree, above, will be the center of the museum’s activities as it looks to sell the Peking, seen here at a summer concert.
By Julie Shapiro
One year ago, the South Street Seaport Museum was on the verge of closing.
The museum never quite bounced back after 9/11 and subsequent funding cuts, which came midway through a major renovation. Layoffs drained the staff and closed the museum’s library, and the low attendance prevented improvements.
But this week, the museum’s leaders painted a picture of an institution that is on the rebound.
“We want to make the museum really, really vital to the Lower Manhattan community,” museum chairperson Frank Sciame told Community Board 1.
He and executive director Mary Pelzer are working to inject vibrancy into a museum whose exhibits have gone years without changing. This winter, they embarked on a six-month process to create a strategic plan, the museum’s first, which they will unveil in June. New exhibits are arriving, starting with a collection of Barbara Mensch’s photographs of fishmongers and other Seaport scenes, opening April 26. In October, the museum will host 120 to 150 objects from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s personal maritime collection.
Pelzer, 29, intends for the museum’s resurrection to coincide with a myriad of Downtown revitalization projects, from the new World Trade Center to the East River waterfront.
“The Seaport district is going to be the focus and highlight of Lower Manhattan,” Pelzer said.
General Growth Properties is on the verge of announcing plans for Pier 17 and the rest of the Seaport mall, the city is planning park and public space all along the East River and the Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum will bring millions of visitors Downtown. With all those projects inundating the neighborhood, the museum is determined to carve out a central role for the Seaport Museum.
“It’s important that the city understands there’s more to the development of Downtown than ground zero,” Sciame said, emphasizing that the museum should not just attract tourists.
To strengthen the museum’s link to the community, Harold Reed, a C.B. 1 member, recently joined the board of trustees.
The museum needs rotating exhibits that appeal to a broader audience in order to attract Lower Manhattan residents and workers, Reed said. He wants to expand the museum’s offerings by bringing lectures, readings and new exhibits that will entice locals to visit the museum. One of the best signs for the future is that the museum is creating a strategic plan, Reed added.
“It’s a precious little jewel,” Reed said of the museum. “People know that it’s there, but attendance has to increase…. It’s an established cultural institution in New York City — we just need it to become more of a focal point. ”
Although the museum’s leaders are looking forward with optimism, the tight financial situation has given Pelzer and the trustees some tough decisions to make in the meantime. One of those decisions is to sell the Peking, the museum’s flagship vessel. The merchant ship arrived at the Seaport in 1975 and now needs $30-35 million of work before it can sail again.
“If a ship’s not moving, it’s losing money,” Pelzer said in an interview, quoting a shipping adage that applies to Peking as well. Immobile ships will not draw visitors, and the museum doesn’t have the money to put Peking in motion.
An organization in Hamburg, Germany, Europe’s second largest port and Peking’s birthplace, has expressed interest in bringing the ship home and making the repairs, Pelzer said. Peking will leave New York within the next several years.
“We truly believe we cannot afford to keep Peking,” said Sciame, also a developer who has restored historic buildings in the neighborhood. “We never intended [for Peking] to stay forever.”
Pelzer pointed out that when the museum bought the tall ship 33 years ago, the only other bidder at the auction was a scrap yard. The museum rescued the ship then, but now it’s time to pass the responsibility to someone else, she said.
Judy Trazino, a Southbridge Towers resident, was sad to hear of the museum’s plans to sell Peking.
“That’s horrible,” Trazino said in a telephone interview. “My children both grew up on that ship. It’s a piece of history — I certainly don’t want to see it go.”
Trazino’s daughter Jill, 12, used to visit Peking every day on trips to the Seaport. “It was like my backyard,” she said. “It’s pretty much wrong that they’re going to take it away.”
Along with other neighborhood children, Jill attended many programs on Peking and learned about its history, growing attached to the vessel in the process.
The ship is a symbol of the museum, she said, so “Seeing it go will make the whole thing fall apart.”
When she first heard the museum was considering selling the vessel four years ago, Jill, then 8, wrote letters urging the museum directors to change their mind. After a public outcry, museum leaders did say a few years ago that they no longer wanted to sell the ship and Jill is hoping that the same approach will work this time around.
“I’m going to write another letter and keep my fingers crossed,” she said.
Peking’s departure will allow the museum to focus on Wavertree, an 1885 tall ship that came to the Seaport Museum in 1968. Unlike Peking, Wavertree docked in New York for trade, so Wavertree is a better representative of the city’s history, Pelzer said. The Wavertree needs $4 million in structural improvements — money the city has already promised — and the ship will need an additional $2.5 million for exhibitions and sails. If all goes well, the ship will be ready to sail again by the end of 2009.
The museum may also sell some of its other ships. Those that are definitely safe, in addition to Wavertree, are W.O. Decker, Pioneer and Lettie G. Howard. But the museum is considering selling Ambrose, Helen McAllister and Marion M., which cannot sail on their own.
The funding shortfalls also led to layoffs in 2004, included Norman Brouwer, a nationally renowned maritime historian and curator. When he left, the museum’s library, including the books and a large collection of original ship plans, closed to the public.
“It’s a shame for the museum to not have a curator,” Julie Nadel, chairperson of the C.B. 1 Waterfront Committee said at a recent Waterfront meeting, after a presentation by the museum. She called Brouwer’s departure “a great loss.”
Pelzer replied that she wants the museum to once again become a source of scholarly research, but that the transformation will take time. Now, most of the books are in boxes, accessible only by appointment. Volunteers are creating a digital database of the library’s holdings, so future users will not have to rely on the card catalogue. A recent grant for a structural survey of the library’s space is ready to go but requires a corporate match. Pelzer added that she is reaching out to Brouwer for help.
“It sounds like they’re trying,” Nadel, who had been critical of Brouwer’s dismissal, said after the Waterfront Committee meeting. “It’s hard to run museums…. If they don’t have money, they don’t have money, and they have to make hard decisions.”
Nadel was happy that the museum came to the Waterfront Committee meeting and that lines of communication are open between C.B. 1 and the museum. As a show of support, C.B. 1 will list the reopening of the museum’s library as a high budget priority for next year.
On Sept. 12, 2001, the Port Authority was supposed to vote on $6 million of the $20 million renovation of the Seaport Museum’s Schermerhorn Row. The museum was in the middle of converting the row of warehouse buildings into gallery space. Not only did the Sept. 12 vote not happen, but many of the Port Authority staffers who had supported the funding died in the attack.
The steelworkers who were doing the Seaport renovation were called to ground zero and the museum switched its focus to selling tickets for the viewing platform as a service to the community.
“Nine-eleven put us in a financial tailspin,” Sciame said. Pelzer added, “It was a big hurdle for us to get through.”
In January 2007, Sciame became chair of the board and Pelzer, the museum’s legal counsel and a former volunteer, was promoted to executive director.
The museum couldn’t even contemplate progress at that point, but resolved to inch sideways, thinking any change would be a good one, Sciame said. Now, as more funding falls into place, he and Pelzer believe the museum is taking a step forward.
Schermerhorn Row, a 30,000-square-foot addition, opened partially in 2003 with 12,000 square feet of gallery space. Several floors of galleries are not yet open and need renovations to protect the artifacts. The museum received a $3 million grant from the city to do the work, but needs another million to do it right, Pelzer said.
The row of 1812 brick buildings served as a center of trade, first as produce markets and then as warehouses. The pine floorboards of the galleries, reclaimed from a 19th-century Boston warehouse, slope gently where the building settled. The original wooden ceiling beams are blackened in places from several fires that tore through the building, though Pelzer said the fire actually dried and strengthened the wood in places.
After the Brooklyn Bridge opened, Schermerhorn Row turned from a family market into a wholesale market and the hotel in one of the buildings became an immigrant tenement that may have taken a turn as a brothel. Preserved graffiti from the 19th and early 20th centuries shed light on the “rough and tumble crowd” that occupied the buildings and patronized a coffee and teahouse there. If a customer didn’t pay for his coffee, “Shoot him on the spot,” one inscription advised.
The galleries that are open house a fraction of the museum’s 30,000 objects, including paintings, ship models and scrimshaw. The upper levels, closed to the public, will eventually display a preserved hallway from the old hotel and the hotel’s washroom.
The South Street Seaport Museum was founded 40 years ago to preserve 12 blocks south of the Brooklyn Bridge. The museum succeeded in getting the neighborhood landmarked, and then brought historic ships to the waterfront and opened the library. The museum has 700 members and gets 250,000 visitors annually, numbers that the museum leaders hope will grow. The number of visitors includes those who just go see the ships but do not enter the museum’s building, Pelzer said.
The museum receives 15 percent of its funding from the government, with the rest split between earned income — admissions, program fees and rent from subtenants — and private donations.
Over the years, the museum has had something of an identity problem, Pelzer said. The Rouse Company, which built the mall on Pier 17, named the shops the “South Street Seaport,” creating confusion. And visitors drawn to the ships on Pier 16 often don’t realize that there is a museum that owns them, Pelzer said.
It doesn’t help that until Schermerhorn Row opened, the museum’s galleries were strewn throughout the neighborhood, with no unifying center.
“We called ourselves a museum without walls,” Pelzer said. “Now we have a center and a home for exhibitions.”
She added, though, that the museum maintains scattered gallery space, in addition to the ships on Pier 16 and the Titanic Memorial, with 75,000 square feet of space total. The museum also leads walking tours throughout the Seaport, so in many ways, the entire neighborhood falls under the museum’s purview as Pelzer seeks to tell the district’s story.
“The district is still important for us to interpret,” Pelzer said. “That’s our job — preserve [the history] and remind people about it.”
Copyright 2008 Downtown Express.
Last edited by brianac; March 29th, 2008 at 07:32 AM.
Museum hopes for historic ships on Pier 15
By Julie Shapiro
In the city’s popular East River waterfront redevelopment project, Pier 15 has become a lightning rod of sorts.
The community complained that the pier was not maritime friendly and has sent the pier’s architects through multiple redesigns. The South Street Seaport Museum was a leading voice of criticism, and not just about the design of the pier. The museum, which has historically had rights to Pier 15, disagrees with the city about who will run the pier.
At the Community Board 1 Waterfront Committee March 24, the museum’s leaders gave a presentation on the museum’s new exhibits and expanding programs, but C.B. 1’s questions focused mainly on Pier 15, which needs to be rebuilt.
Given all that the museum has on its plate, Peter Glazier, C.B. 1 member and owner of Bridgewaters catering hall in the Seaport, had a fair question to ask: “Why bite off Pier 15?”
“Pier 15 is really essential to the museum’s mission,” executive director Mary Pelzer said. Frank Sciame, chairperson of the museum’s board, added that the museum doesn’t see the pier as a burden, but rather as an asset, both financially and in terms of the space it will provide for programming. In the museum’s vision, the pier would provide space for visiting ships and possibly commercial boats to dock, along with science labs for children’s programs.
The city Economic Development Corporation has said there will be a request for proposals before any operators are chosen on Pier 15, but Sciame balked at that idea.
“I can’t think of competing for something that’s ours,” he said. “The city has given us portions of Pier 15 — it’s just a question of how much.”
When pressed by board members, Pelzer said the E.D.C. has promised the museum the north side of the pier for docking ships, but she did not say the city had promised any more of the pier. Sciame added that the museum still has to work out the details with the city, but he thinks the museum’s position is clear.
“We had the rights to Pier 15, and we still have the rights to Pier 15,” he said.
Pelzer later added that in the late 1990s through 2001, the museum had several plans to develop the pier, but whenever the museum had funding, the state didn’t approve the project, and whenever the state approved the project, the museum didn’t have funding. The museum sunk $400,000 into plans to develop the pier.
Pelzer wants historic vessels to be the pier’s priority.
“South St. was called the street of ships,” she said after the meeting, while giving a tour of the museum. “It was a forest of masts.” She pointed out a photograph from the 1890s that showed tall ships lining every pier along the East River.
As a bargaining chip for Pier 15, Sciame hopes to sell the city a corner lot of the museum’s property at John and South Sts., a vacant space that the museum had considered for an addition. The sale would create a financial reserve for the museum, and the city would like to see another cultural institution in the space, Sciame said.
The lot is 6,000 to 7,000 square feet and could hold a 30,000 to 40,000-square-foot building. But that deal is only on the table if the museum retains — or regains, depending on who’s keeping track — the rights to Pier 15, Sciame said.
The designs for Pier 15 have gone through several iterations, and most recently SHoP Architects presented renderings earlier this year for a double-decker pier that is more maritime-friendly than previous designs.
Aside from the programming concerns, Pelzer is worried that the double-decker pier will obstruct views of the Brooklyn Bridge.
“Being able to walk up from the Battery, seeing beautiful vistas of tall ships, with the bridge behind that, is really important,” Pelzer said. “It gives a sense of place.”
Pamela Hepburn, president of the Tug Pegasus Preservation Project, spoke at the C.B. 1 meeting on behalf of single-ship museums. She and other boat owners who run educational programs would benefit from joining forces with the Seaport Museum and being able to dock on Pier 15, she said.
Carolina Salguero, director PortSide NewYork, agreed that she wants to see a variety of organizations programming Pier 15. The Seaport’s fleet does not represent the last 50 to 60 years of shipping, she said. Salguero hosts educational and cultural events on a tanker in Red Hook, including an opera performance last year.
Ro Sheffe, a C.B.1 member, wanted to make sure Pier 15 served local residents and not just tourists. Sheffe said he understood the importance of maritime uses on the pier — in fact, he has been sailing since he was 8 years old — but community space is also important, he said.
Sciame replied that he agreed, and that the museum wants to attract more Lower Manhattan residents as members.
Sciame doesn’t think the city should finalize plans for Pier 15 until General Growth Properties announces its plans for Pier 17 and the rest of the mall. “It has to be viewed as a whole, not as a bifurcated or trifurcated process,” he said.
Copyright 2008 Downtown Express.
City Closing in on Final Pier 15 Plans
By Matt Dunning
POSTED AUGUST 8, 2008
The city agency responsible for breathing new life into Lower Manhattan’s eastern waterfront is getting closer to finalizing designs for a revamped Pier 15.
As part of its massive, multi-billion dollar East River Waterfront Project, the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) plans to reconstruct Pier 15, near the intersection of South and Pine Streets. Recently, the EDC cleared an important hurdle in the process of finalizing the design of the new pier, garnering a majority approval from Community Board 1.
Plans for the new two-tiered pier include an elevated park, complete with lawns and shrubs, connected by long ramps to the lower level pier, which is slated for a maritime education center to be run by the South Street Seaport Museum. The design is about 70% complete, according to an EDC spokeswoman.
The project, which is being designed by Manhattan-based SHoP Architects, still needs approval from several city and state agencies—including the Art Commission, State Historic Preservation Office, the Army Core of Engineers and Department of Environmental Conservation. EDC is slated to appear before the Landmarks Preservation Commission next month.
When CB1 last saw the plans for the pier in February, one of the main points of contention was the size of a cutout with a set of stairs along part of the southern edge of the pier, designed to allow small boats and kayaks access to the river. Under the old plan, 15% of the pier’s square footage would have been lost to the cutout. Per recommendations made by CB1’s Waterfront Committee July 21, EDC revised their plans, reducing the amount of lost usable space on the pier to just 5%.
“The idea was to make it feel like you were really connected to the water from the lower level,” said Gregg Pasquarelli, one of the project’s architects.
Another key change in EDC’s design for the new pier was a reduction in the size of the elevated park. The old design showed the park extended all the way to the end of the pier, covering the lower level entirely. The new design, Pasquarelli said, leaves 80 feet of the lower level uncovered, and opens up a large swath of the deck for outdoor seating.
After passing muster with CB1’s Landmarks Committee July 24, the full board approved the plan by a 38-2 margin. “It’s a very nice design,”
Landmarks Committee chairman Roger Byrom said. “I think it’s wonderful, and I strongly support it.”
Later this fall, the design will go back before CB1’s Waterfront Committee, whose chairwoman, Julie Nadel, continues to oppose any cutout on the pier’s edge.
"Once they put in cutouts it precludes larger vessels docking in that area and they have no practical use," she said, adding that floating docks would serve the purpose of "get downs" to the water for boarding small vessels.
"Cutouts are not in keeping with the historical purpose of the pier," which is maritime education and use, Nadel said.
Lee Gruzen, co-chair of the community group Seaport Speaks, credited EDC for compromising their original plans as much as it had, but said she too couldn’t imagine supporting the proposal until the cutout is removed.
“The design is getting better and better...but it’s not done yet,” Gruzen said. “It’s not 100% functional yet, and with such a premium on dock space in the city, we need all three straight sides.
CB1 member and Landmarks Committee co-chairman Bruce Ehrmann cautioned opponents of the plan in its current state about trying to over-regulate what he believed was an appropriate plan for the pier’s rebirth.
“I think it’s an extremely coherent design,” Ehrmann said. “We ought to be careful of tampering with it.
The Tribeca Trib · 401 Broadway, 5th Floor · New York, NY · 10013 · 212.219.9709
State Historic Preservation Office
The Army Core of Engineers and Department of Environmental Conservation
Landmarks Preservation Commission
CB1’s Waterfront Committee
CB1’s Landmarks Committee
Economic Development Corporation
....why don't we involve the U.N. and Greenpeace too.
I find it ridiculous that a dozen different commitees have to approve a pier renovation. No wonder nothing gets done! The plan was announced in 2003.
Three-fourths of the city's waterfront is still crumbling, yet we must take seasons to review and revise a plan over some cutout for small boats and kayaks. And the thing that gets me the most is it's always months between each scheduled hearing. WTF is taking so long? Does the CB need to review each damn bench!?
Last edited by Derek2k3; August 23rd, 2008 at 06:34 PM.
Volume 21, Number 16 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Aug. 29 - Sept. 4, 2008
Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth RobertGeneral Growth Properties hopes to demolish Pier 17 to build redesigned retail, but in the meantime the firm has brought in new shops. The new leases are short term and have low rents, according to several sources..
What’s up, Seaport? Business up, as lower-rent shops move Downtown
By Julie Shapiro
The mall on Pier 17 does not have the air of a doomed building.
New shops and restaurants are opening, sales are up and the crowds keep coming.
“Every year since 9/11 has gotten better,” said Janell Vaughan, senior general manager at General Growth Properties, which owns the mall.
Shops reported brisk business this summer, possibly because of visitors coming to the pier to see Olafur Eliasson’s Waterfalls art installation and possibly because the European tourists are taking advantage of the weak dollar, Vaughan said.
But the mall’s financial success does not erase the fact that General Growth hopes to demolish it within several years as part of the company’s redevelopment of the Seaport. General Growth hopes to build a 495-foot condo and hotel tower just north of Pier 17, along with lower-rise retail, a boutique hotel and a large plaza on the pier itself. The project is still in the early planning stages and requires approval from city, state and federal agencies before it can move forward.
Since the possible demolition of the mall is so far off, General Growth is inviting new tenants in to fill the spaces of businesses evicted for not paying rent and businesses whose leases G.G.P. decided not to renew.
“Our goal is always to keep the property full and vibrant,” Vaughan said, adding that the mall and uplands buildings have a 90 percent occupancy rate.
While chains like Express and Victoria’s Secret are still going strong at the mall, the newer businesses tend toward less expensive fare: There are stores with $10 T-shirts, stores devoted to socks and scarves and stores with discounted suits.
The new tenants have different leases than the ones who have been at the mall for years. All are short-term, and the rents are much lower for the new tenants, said Faith Hope Consolo, chairperson of the retail leasing and sales division at Prudential Douglas Elliman. Several tenants also said the new leases have clauses that allow General Growth to evict them with 30 days notice.
“You’re in a different environment than a few years ago,” Consolo said, referring to General Growth’s recently announced plans to demolish the mall. “It’s destination retail in an area that’s in flux.”
Gerry Nally, who owned Seaport Watch Company in the mall from 1991 until G.G.P. decided not to renew his lease last year, created a chart showing the change in rents between 1995 and 2006. When the same business stayed in the same space between those years, its rent roughly doubled, according to Nally. When a new business entered, its rent was generally much lower or was based entirely on a percentage of the business’s sales, rather than being fixed. Nally got his data from lease documents and conversations with current tenants. In 2004, he and 17 other businesses sued General Growth and the Rouse Company, which previously owned the mall. The lawsuit is still pending.
Vaughan confirmed that the new leases are short-term, but she would not say whether they were lower or higher than 1995. General Growth has been transparent about their plans to demolish the mall, she said.
Vaughan said nearly all the numbers in Nally’s 2006 survey are incorrect.
Consolo said the new short-term, low-rent arrangements are not unusual in malls. Grand Central Terminal offered low rents to temporary tenants while they redid their shopping concourse, and then if those tenants performed well, they got a space in the final project, she said.
Erika Delgado, a manager at the Seaport mall’s Victoria’s Secret for two years, said she thinks General Growth will give her store a space in the new retail they’re planning for the pier.
Vaughan said that while General Growth is talking to tenants about the new Seaport, “It’s premature for us to make any deals.”
Even if Victoria’s Secret were guaranteed a spot in the new Seaport, Delgado still does not want to see the mall store close.
“It’s gonna be a little sad,” she said. “It’s sad that everybody is going to be separated — it won’t feel like a family here.”
Consolo said retailers have asked her whether they thought it was worth investing in the mall, even though it will likely be demolished, and she advised them to do it.
“It’s a win-win situation for both sides,” Consolo said. General Growth benefits by filling space in the mall without having long-term leases on their hands, and the tenants benefit by paying low rents or largely percent-sale rents, she said. The community also benefits, Consolo said, by not having vacant storefronts.
The people who are not benefiting, though, are the longtime tenants who say they had to leave the mall after General Growth decided not to renew their substantially higher leases. These tenants, who are part of Nally’s lawsuit, are upset because they say that new businesses are paying a fraction of what they paid — and that’s after the longtime businesses weathered the tough sales climate after 9/11.
Ed Shapiro, a tenant in Nally’s lawsuit, owned hamburger, salad and cheese steak restaurants in the mall, along with four food or drink carts on the pier. Before that, his pizza restaurant was one of the first tenants in the Fulton Market building in 1983. He and other business owners said they were losing money after 9/11 but they kept their doors open by going into debt. They looked forward to reaping the eventual benefits of Lower Manhattan’s revitalization.
However, when Shapiro’s lease was up in 2007, General Growth did not renew it. Shapiro and other tenants resent that they stuck with the Seaport during lean times and then the Seaport ousted them when the Seaport’s foot traffic returned. Shapiro was left with more than $100,000 of debt.
General Growth’s Vaughan, who also worked for Rouse at the Seaport, said she would not comment on why G.G.P. chooses not to renew specific leases, and she declined to comment on what the Rouse Company did after 9/11.
As old businesses leave, new ones are filling in — and they lack the grievances and longtime investments of the old ones.
One of these new businesses belongs to Dave Nerahoo, vice president of sales for As Seen on TV Stores L.L.C., which owns a Choice Portables T-Mobile store in the mall, along with an As Seen on TV store. He opened the T-Mobile store three months ago.
“We’re here until the whole project is finished,” Nerahoo said. He said he didn’t sign a long-term lease and said that, like many other small businesses, General Growth can ask him to leave with 30 days notice. It’s only “the big boys” that get long-term leases, he said.
“I love it here,” Nerahoo added. “I love tourists. I feel like I’m on vacation every day.” He particularly likes getting to meet people from all over the world, which he said is the biggest perk of his job.
As for the new plans for the Seaport, Nerahoo had one message for General Growth: “Don’t do it,” he said.
Like Nerahoo, most current mall employees who spoke to Downtown Express don’t want to see their stores demolished.
“I think it’s pretty good the way it is now,” said Chris Weeden, manager and artist at The Graffiti Shop, which personalizes merchandise. “I think the mall itself is really good for the area.” Weeden does not think the overhaul of the pier is necessary.
“I say leave it as it is,” agreed Phillip Forman, assistant manager at Foot Locker.
Jessica, a manager at Bath & Body Works who did not want to give her last name, said she found out about the new plans for the Seaport from a flyer General Growth sent to all the businesses.
“I think it’s good,” she said of the new design, “but this is also a New York City landmark.”
The most recent additions to the mall are Anna Maria’s Pizza and Shake ‘n Burger, owned by Joe Oliva, which moved in about a month ago.
“We’re very busy,” Oliva said as his workers served a mid-afternoon crowd in the third-floor food court. He said he has been pleasantly surprised by how much business he has done in his first month.
Oliva would not disclose his lease agreement with General Growth. Asked how long he would be able to stay in business at the Pier 17 mall, he said, “Nobody knows. I hope long term, at least a couple of years…. We’ll be here [until] construction starts.”
Across the food court, Vincent Mello was chatting with some patrons of Vino’s, the bar he has owned for the past two years.
“I think it’s a great thing,” he said of General Growth’s plans for the Seaport.
His business’s current success does not make Mello upset about losing his space in the mall if General Growth demolishes it.
“They know exactly what they’re doing,” Mello said of General Growth. “Anything for a better Seaport is very good.”
As for whether G.G.P. will give Mello a space in the new Seaport, “That’s not up to me to ask,” Mello said.
Nicole Dng, who has worked at Jewelry Mine for three years, also wasn’t fazed by the mall’s possible demolition.
“You can get a job anywhere,” she said, shrugging.
© 2008 Community Media, LLC