|Leading the redevelopment of
the South Street Seaportt
in Lower Manhattan.
A SEAPORT TASK FORCE: Statement of Purpose
In recognition of the historic and cultural importance of the South Street Seaport and in fulfillment of the public purposes to which this city asset has been dedicated* since its inception, the elected officials of Lower Manhattan are joining Community Board One to create and lead a Seaport Task Force.
To serve the public's interest in this important matter, the Task Force and related efforts must:
Establish a transparent and comprehensive inventory of all public lands, buildings, streets, platforms, piers, and open space within the Seaport District;
Develop policies to govern the future development and uses of these assets so as to maximize local and regional economic, community, and cultural development:
Protect the considerable investment of public and private funds dedicated over four decades to establishing this District’s irreplaceable and unique character.
* Language from Section 23 the 1981 “Seaport Marketplace Lease” between the City of New York, the South Street Seaport Museum, and the Rouse Corporation, predecessor(-in-interest) to Howard Hughes.
INVENTORY: The First Step in Sound Planning
1. Complete a comprehensive, transparent inventory of public assets in the Seaport District including a detailed history of all City, State, federal, and philanthropic investments made to acquire, repair, restore, and maintain them to date; the expectations behind these investments; an independent assessment of all District structures and infrastructure including rehabilitation and repair costs under varied scenarios; and an independent analysis of relevant contracts, leases, and land use laws governing these assets.
2. Investigate whether and to what extent the City of New York is under any binding obligation to assign or lease or otherwise dispose of public assets in the District including but not limited to those listed in the December 2011 Letter of Intent between EDC and Howard Hughes; and whether and to what extent the City of New York believes itself legally obligated to dispose of such properties.
3. Form a Special Committee of recognized cultural and institutional professionals to fully evaluate the South Street Seaport Museum and its assets, including buildings, collections, archives, and sailing vessels and evaluate various scenarios for its rehabilitation as a thriving institution. Take special consideration of the Museum’s Founders and their original intention to create a temporally relevant interpretation of the origins and evolution of New York City’s first port and commercial district, and how this concern became manifested in various lease obligations and other provisions to maintain the character and purpose of the Seaport District beyond the Museum’s own properties.
PUBLIC ASSETS: New York City's own Forum
The place known as the "South Street Seaport" is a largely intact 19th century waterfront Market District at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge in Lower Manhattan, whose evolution can be traced uninterrupted to 1642. The long history of public markets and other forms of public gathering and commerce makes the District the closest equivalent New York City has to an ancient forum or agora. As such it bears immense cultural and therefore economic value, but only if its integrity is preserved, guarded, and properly managed.
In the late 1960's a citizen-led group of visionaries realized the importance of preserving the District's unique and irreplaceable urban fabric. They believed that old structures should be given new, content that would relate with meaning to the neighborhood's past while serving contemporary needs. This compelling vision resulted in four decades of government and philanthropic investment of hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire, rehabilitate, and restore assets throughout the District so that they would serve a public purpose and make the Seaport into a distinctive urban destination for New Yorkers and visitors. This vision remains a possibility, but only if the public defends its assets.
The public properties illustrated above are leased to various entities in a many-layered scenario where blocks, buildings, and even floors of buildings are all subdivided in complicated ways and leased to three primary tenants: the South Street Seaport Museum; the Howard Hughes Corporation; and Seaport Associates.
A number of properties are presently unassigned as illustrated below:
THE OLD FULTON FISH MARKET: Unrealized Potential
The heart of the District is comprised of two unique and irreplaceable riverfront market halls -- known as the Tin Building and New Market Building -- both empty since 2005 when the Fulton Fish Market was moved to the Bronx. That same year, New Amsterdam Market was launched with a mission to preserve and rehabilitate these two city-owned facilities, which remain threatened by inappropriate development proposals as now being forwarded by Howard Hughes.
[read Duel at the Old Fulton Fish Market].
We envision the Tin Building and New Market Building redeveloped as a permanent, year-round, wholesale & retail
distribution center dedicated to responsible agriculture, regional sourcing, and fair trade.
[read what chef April Bloomfield, NYTimes columnist Mark Bittman, and journalist Paul Greenberg have to say about this vision] New Amsterdam Market will anchor a resilient, 21st century market district inspired by the fabled Les Halles of Paris, London's Borough Market, and American precedents such as Pike Place Market in Seattle and Ferry Plaza Market in San Francisco.
The highest and best use of any place emerges from the character of that place itself. The New Amsterdam Market District will emerge as a thriving destination by fostering and supporting numerous, varied, independent local businesses, and by ensuring that infrastructure and building uses evolve in concert with climate change and its effects. To this end we propose a new Local Development Corporation to govern the District, oversee its public assets, improve the quality of public space, and maximize revenues for infrastructure maintenance.
With the present change in city government, we have an important window of opportunity to "freeze the deal" and reverse the policy decisions that would otherwise lead to the permanent loss of important public assets including the Tin Building and New Market Building, Schermerhorn Row, the Fulton Market Stalls on South Street, and the Working Pier.
People are drawn to what is real, not artificial. The Tin Building and New Market Building hold four centuries of New York City's memory, as do other public-owned structures in the Market District that surrounds them. We should not accept short-sighted solutions designed for short-term private gain when it is instead possible to retain public assets for public purposes. New Yorkers have always found ways to create unique and compelling destinations with both public and philanthropic funding. Recent examples include the High Line, Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island, Governors Island, and Brooklyn Bridge Park. The East River communities of Lower Manhattan have a place like nowhere else right in their own backyard; now is the time stop thinking of the South Street Seaport as a suburban shopping mall and make it back into something great.
(above: Tin Building interior, and below New Market Building forecourt, by Barbara Mensch)