Volume 20, Number 36 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Feb. 1 - 7 , 2008

Seaport Museum and city fighting over pier space

By Julie Shapiro

Frank Sciame says the South Street Seaport Museum has rights to Pier 15. The city Economic Development Corporation says otherwise.

The two sides met at a Community Board 1 meeting Monday, and though the meeting’s purpose was to examine the pier’s design, the focus often fell on future programming at the pier. Sciame, chairperson of the museum’s board, said the museum would need nearly the entire lower level of the two-story pier for maritime use.

“Pier 15 is vital to our mission,” Sciame said after the meeting. “It’s a working pier. It should be authentic. It should bring back memories of maritime history.”

Sciame, also a developer who has restored Historic Front Street nearby, wants to see reception space, a model shop, maritime laboratories and an education center, all run by the museum, on the pier. As of right now, though, the only space E.D.C. has designated for the museum is 350 feet of docking for historic ships on the pier’s north side. Pier designs include a 3,000-square-foot maritime education center on the lower level, but E.D.C. has not decided who will run the programming there.

In response to a board member’s question about the museum losing its rights to the pier, Sciame replied, “I still believe we have the rights.”

Mary Pelzer, director of the museum, added that, at the very least, the museum will need space on the pier to store maintenance materials for the boats. “Boats need a lot of support,” she said.

William Kelley, vice president of planning and development for E.D.C., does not expect the museum to run all of the pier’s lower level. He pointed to the café in the rendering, saying, “I don’t think they would be running the café.” Kelly also wants to save room for open space.

“We’re just designing the pier,” added Gregg Pasquarelli, of SHoP Architects, which designed the entire East River Waterfront plan, including Pier 15. “The territory will be decided later.”

After the meeting, Sciame firmly reiterated the museum’s rights to the pier, but said that even if that wasn’t the case, the city should still want the museum to run programming.

“Why wouldn’t the city want that pier to be authentic, historic, a benchmark that was the very history of South St.?” he asked.

At the meeting, Pasquarelli presented a new version of Pier 15 renderings, based on the community’s comments during his last presentation several months ago. Back then, boaters criticized the pier as overdesigned, featuring artistic cutouts and lacking practical mechanisms for boat docking.

The new design removes all but one cutout and adds cleats and bollards to dock boats along 850 feet of the potentially available 1,100 feet. The city refused to release the new rendering for publication.

Several board members voiced appreciation for the E.D.C.’s accommodations, but the atmosphere was still largely dissatisfied.

Lee Gruzen, co-chairperson of Seaport Speaks, said the two-story pier wasn’t historically accurate to piers south of the Brooklyn Bridge. She was also disappointed the city is not planning to dredge ground south of Pier 15, which would allow more boat access.

“Every inch of the pier should function for boat use,” an impassioned Gruzen said. “We’re very short sighted in giving any [of the pier] to open space.”

At the end of the meeting, the joint Waterfront, Seaport/Civic Center and Financial District Committees unanimously passed a resolution that had gone through several rounds of revision. Julie Menin, chairperson of C.B. 1, attended the meeting to refocus the resolution on Pier 15 and ensure it did not uniformly reject the entire East River Waterfront plan.

The latest committee resolution expressed deep concerns about E.D.C.’s revised designs for Pier 15, but did not disapprove the overall plan.

The E.D.C. plans to use the C.B. 1 committee’s comments as part of its upcoming application to the Arts Commission.

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