Seaport Museum’s operator pulls out

The South Street Seaport Museum's Pioneer. Downtown Express file photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer.

The South Street Seaport Museum’s Pioneer. Downtown Express file photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer.


BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER  | [Updated 1:20 p.m., June 25, 2013] Effective July 5, the Museum of the City of New York, which had been managing the South Street Seaport Museum since the fall of 2011, will end its relationship with the museum headquartered at 12 Fulton St.

After years of financial hardship, the Seaport Museum, consisting of property on Fulton St. and Water St. and historic ships moored on Pier 16, was on its way back to financial and curatorial health when Superstorm Sandy struck, creating an estimated $22 million worth of damage.

“Sandy ravaged our building systems and more,” said Susan Henshaw Jones, director of the Museum of the City of New York and president of the South Street Seaport Museum, when she announced on June 24 that the Museum of the City of New York was pulling out. “FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] considers the South Street Seaport Museum a ‘nonessential nonprofit. There is no clear path to receiving ‘mitigation’ funding. At the same time funding from FEMA will take years to receive.”

After struggling to reopen following Sandy, the museum finally had to close its galleries at 12 Fulton St. on April 7 and move its collection to its conjoined building facing John Street, which still had adequate air conditioning and climate control to keep the collection safe.

It also kept its auxiliary shop, Bowne & Co. Stationers open at 211 Water St. along with Bowne Printers, also on Water St. The museum’s 1885 schooner Pioneer embarked on harbor sails this season.

Danai Pointer, a spokesperson for the Department of Cultural Affairs, said that the Pioneer will continue to sail through the summer season and that Bowne & Co. will remain open.

“We are working with the Museum of the City of New York on the transition,” she said.

An article in The New York Times about the South Street Seaport Museum’s situation quoted Kate D. Levin, the cultural affairs commissioner, as saying that the D.C.A. is working to find another entity that could manage the South Street Seaport Museum.

In the last 21 months, under the Museum of the City of New York’s direction, the South Street Seaport Museum mounted 18 exhibitions and initiated an ambitious array of children’s programming. It spent $200,000 to replace the hull on its historic lightship, Ambrose, and raised $400,000 to replace Ambrose’s deck. In addition the Museum of the City of New York raised the $250,000 needed to rebuild the South Street Seaport Museum’s 1883 schooner, Lettie G. Howard. It also obtained a capital grant of $2.5 million from the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs to stabilize the hull on the Wavertree, built in 1885 and one of the last large sailing ships with an iron hull.

“I believe that the City of New York has a commitment and responsibility to our community to insure the continued existence and viability of the South Street Seaport Museum,” said Paul Hovitz, a member of Community Board 1′s South Street Seaport Committee. ”The programs, exhibits and ships are a vital part of our heritage. Letting them die would be like leveling the Alamo to build a shopping mall.”

Catherine McVay Hughes, C.B. 1’s chairperson, said that she had been contacted on Friday, June 21, by a representative of the New York City Economic Development Corp. to attend a meeting between C.B. 1, E.D.C., the Department of Cultural Affairs, elected officials and museum representatives about the future of the museum. Hughes said that the news that the Museum of the City of New York is backing away could change what happens at that meeting, but that she still expects it to take place, probably in the next couple of weeks.

A spokesperson for E.D.C., the Seaport Museum’s landlord, declined to comment.

“I thank the Museum of the City of New York for its fruitful stewardship of the South Street Seaport Museum,” City Councilmember Margaret Chin said in a statement. “For many months, I have worked with the Department of Cultural Affairs, Community Board 1, the city’s Economic Development Corporation, the Howard Hughes Corporation, and the South Street Seaport Museum to ensure the museum’s continued presence in the Seaport, and I look forward to together finding an organization that will assume stewardship of the museum, its collections and its legacy.”

Jenifer Rajkumar, who is running for City Council against Chin, said: “Back in March, thousands of community members asked the City Council to negotiate protections for the Seaport Museum as part of Howard Hughes Corporation’s…proposal for the Seaport. The City Council failed to do so. This was an incredible missed opportunity to save the Seaport Museum. We must not miss another opportunity now.”

All of the parties must come “to the negotiating table to find the stream of revenue that will ensure the survival of the Seaport Museum,” she added.

Spokespersons for Chin’s office and campaign declined to comment on Rajkumar’s criticism of the Council action.




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6 Responses to Seaport Museum’s operator pulls out

  1. Looks like the City wants Howard hughes to take the spaces for their redevelopment. Good old Bloomberg.

  2. Kathleen Younger

    I am saddened by the news and also angry, no outraged that the city has chosen to support Howard Hughes Corp.'s calculated plan to shut down our last connection to the Seaport history and the roots of all history in this city. The Museum of the City of New York did an extraordinary job resurrecting the Seaport Museum and curating remarkable exhibitions which related significant themes in the history of New York City to their impact and influence on the present and future of this city. Thank you to all that contributed to this effort which is grossly unappreciated by a gaggle of underlings and their leader who should not support blatant exploitation aka development in a community which is rich in history. Proposed luxury hotels, apartments and mall shops obliterating our water front is
    reprehensible. Has everyone gone mad? What is our future in a hi rise canyon? Isn't Battery Park City an example, how many high end shops exit now? The New Trade Center will be more than enough for lower Manhattan. And we all know who shops at the Seaport like it or not. Why don't they recognize the value in venues like the New Amsterdam Market? This is quality of life, this is what people value and invest in. Question Mayor Bloomberg: bicycle to where? Not the Seaport City you and your cronies invision. Not even in the name of saving our shores from flooding. How grandiose.

  3. Our current council member Margaret chin has history of making promises like " we are looking in to it along with CB1 and bla.. bla..bla…" and then doing nothing. The truth is that she has different vision of Seaport area. That vision has steel and glass towers. In that vision there is no place for Seaport Museum or other historical sites. If we do not like that vision, our one and one only chance will be on Sept 10th when we elect her opponent Jenifer Rajkumar.

  4. Jenifer Rajkumar couldn't have said it better. Where was our City Council Member Margaret Chin back in March? Chin always says she is meeting with this group or that group, but it's just a lot of empty meetings where Chin lets big real estate interests do whatever they want. Chin never stands up for us, either because she is a sell out or because she lacks the ability. If there is any hope to save the seaport (or what's left of it), we have to get rid of Chin and elect Jenifer Rajkumar this year.

  5. Why are all of you afaid to put your names to the posts you make? Stand up openly for your rights against HHC.

    It took us 18 tenants of the Pier Shops 8 years to get these clowns to court over what they did to us with the Cerq Du Soliel deal in 2004 and we are now currently in our 14th day of trial.

    City Councel, CB 1 and Hovits should have been there for us and were not to be found.

    Gerry Nally Seaport Watch Company Pier 17 (till 1985- 2007) RIP

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