Seaport merchants organize and wonder about future
By Elizabeth OBrien
Some merchants at the South Street Seaport have decided to join forces and demand a say in how the area will be redeveloped once the Fulton Fish Market leaves around the end of this year.
Gerry Nally, owner of the Seaport Watch Company at Pier 17, has organized the Seaport Tenants Committee and set its first meeting for July 12. The group will elect representatives to attend city meetings on the East River waterfront, among other strategies to make their voices heard, Nally said.
The Rouse Company, operator of the Seaport retail, has first dibs on two fish market buildings after the market moves to the Bronx. The company is incorporating those buildings into its master plan for the area, according to previous comments by Michael Piazzola, general manager of Seaport Marketplace.
But Rouse and the city, which owns the land, have given few clues about what the master plan may involve. Many merchants fear they will be pushed out, perhaps in favor of a more upscale, mixed-use development.
We deserve the courtesy of some sort of information about our future, Nally said in a telephone interview.
Most shopkeepers have a personal as well as a professional stake in the future of the Seaport, Nally said. Many took out loans to stay afloat after 9/11, some signing for them personally. Nally said he took out a total of $250,000 in loans, putting his house up as collateral.
Speculation has swirled that the Related Companies, developer of the new Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, may play a role in the revamped Seaport. Several Seaport executives, including Piazzolas predecessor Paul Harnett, have taken jobs with Related over the past year and a half.
Piazzola said last month that he had heard of Relateds interest in the Seaport, but noted that if any talks were underway they were occurring above his level. Piazzola was out of the office and unavailable for comment on Thursday afternoon.
When asked about Relateds future involvement in the Seaport, Madelyn Wils, chairperson of Community Board 1, said last month that nothing had been confirmed.
Jeff Blau, a spokesperson for Related, had no comment on Thursday when asked to confirm the companys interest in the Seaport.
Whatever the plans for the property, merchants say they fear being sold up the river.
You may wake up one morning and not have a business unless we speak out with one voce and be part of this redevelopment process, Nally wrote in a memo to fellow merchants.
The city Economic Development Corporation, the agency overseeing the development of the Seaport property, has begun to hold public meetings on the larger East River waterfront. An agency spokesperson said on Thursday that the next meeting had not been scheduled. For more information, go to the agency Web site at www.nycedc.com.