In a surprise to all, New Amsterdam Market closes

Downtown Express file photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer The New Amsterdam Market last year.

Downtown Express file photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer
The New Amsterdam Market last year.

BY JANEL BLADOW   |  A Seaport staple since 2007, the New Amsterdam Market is no longer, founder Robert LaValva announced in a startling email Monday. The move surprised even the organization’s board members. It’s also unclear whether upcoming fundraising events will be held or canceled.

The announcement, which described the greenmarket’s history and success, also put blame on City Councilmember Margaret Chin for its demise. He wrote that Chin “betrayed the community in favor of a suburban shopping mall developer.”

Chin quickly responded July 14, denouncing the attack, citing her help raising funds for the market and saying that she will continue work to find positive solutions that will help the community.

“Dear Friends,” began LaValva’s email, “I am sorry to announce that New Amsterdam Market has ended, and will no longer take place on South Street.

“Founded in 2005, New Amsterdam Market was first staged at the site of the Old Fulton Fish Market in Lower Manhattan on December 16, 2007. Over the ensuing seven years, the market grew in frequency and scope while nurturing an evolving community of small businesses dedicated to sustainable food production…

 “We also championed the preservation of New York City’s oldest commons, where public trade has been conducted since 1642.  We held a total 88 markets and…contributed to the creation of more than 350 jobs.

“However, I was never able to raise the funding or attract the influential backers needed for our organization to thrive.  Furthermore, we were dealt a mortal blow in 2013 when Councilmember Chin, who had long professed to support our cause, betrayed the community in favor of a suburban shopping mall developer, Howard Hughes.  As a result, Lower Manhattan has already lost more than one acre of beloved and irreplaceable public space [at Pier 17] and is now seeing its most precious public asset ruined by inappropriate programming and terrible waterfront design.”

LaValva was not available by phone or email at deadline. An automatic reply to email stated that he would be away from the office until July 21. He would respond to messages then.

Before the end of the day, Chin issued her own statement, critical of LaValva’s email. She said: “Like many other members of our Lower Manhattan community, I was sorry to learn this morning that the New Amsterdam Market has ended. Aside from that, it would be an understatement to say that I am deeply disappointed by Robert LaValva’s email attacking me as part of his announcement of the closure.

“After speaking with a member of the New Amsterdam Market’s board of directors, I quickly confirmed that Mr. LaValva’s email this morning was sent without the approval or knowledge of the New Amsterdam Market board. In fact, I have a great relationship with the board… and I look forward to continuing to work them in order to keep the market going for the good of our community.

“Mr. LaValva’s claim that I have ‘betrayed the community’ regarding the market and the Seaport is false.”

LaValva has said that the two food markets of 10,000 square feet Chin secured with last year’s deal to redevelop the Pier 17 mall, were too small to maintain a vibrant market feel at the former Fulton Fish Market, and that Chin did not do enough to check Hughes’ development plans for he rest of the neighborhood. 

In her statement, Chin countered: “Here are some facts: I proudly helped secure funding from the City Council and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation in order to support the New Amsterdam Market. I made sure to provide Mr. LaValva and the New Amsterdam Market with opportunities to formalize his relationship with the City.

“Now, Mr. LaValva is trying to publicly blame me for something that he could have prevented by working more collaboratively with my office and the city. That might make for an attention-grabbing email, but it’s not the truth.”

New Amsterdam Market board member Roland Lewis, who is also president of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, told Downtown Express that the move to close the non-profit greenmarket by LaValva came as a surprise to its board.

“We haven’t spoken to Robert,” Lewis said. “It’s always been a challenge for the market to make it.”

The board held an emergency meeting Monday to discuss how to proceed.

“We would like to see the market continue,” he said.

He also said that the market and development of the Seaport are “two separate issues.” He praised Chin’s support of the market.

Long-time Seaport resident and activist Gary Fagin summed up the disappointment of many neighbors about the news and the direction Howard Hughes Corp. management is taking in the Seaport.

“Along with the removal of the Fulton Fish Market, the demise of the Museum of the City of New York’s management [of the South Street Seaport Museum], and the return of chintz and tchotchka shops to the Seaport Marketplace, this rates as another huge blow to authenticity in the South Street Seaport Historic District.

“One would only hope — and it’s a big hope — that this will engender a serious re-evaluation by City Hall of the direction of the Seaport,” he concluded.

Similarly, Water St. resident Matthew Rosenstein said, “When do we as a city decide that we don’t need another chain store or another glass and steel building? When do we decide that our history and traditions deserve better? I truly wonder whether visitors or indeed residents of the South Street Seaport in five or ten years will have any sense at all of its historical significance and past character. If things play out according to the current plan, why would they?”

The next New Amsterdam Market was scheduled for July 26. LaValva posted on Facebook recently that he was working with “noted chef David Tanis, formally of Chez Panisse, on a seasonally-inspired clam bake.”

Tanis who currently writes the weekly “City Kitchen” column for the New York Times, emailed Downtown Express his own regrets about the end of the New Amsterdam Market.

“Robert LaValva fought tirelessly for the New Amsterdam Market to become a reality, mainly with a dream and great perseverance,” he said. “It’s a great shame that City Hall deemed the project unworthy and withheld support. The historic Seaport and the neighborhood deserve better.”

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