Building a historic neighborhood for the 21st century


A lot of new things are going on in one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, the South Street Seaport.

The landmark district, which once served the city’s shipping industry, now is home to the Fulton Fish Market, the Seaport mall, the South Street Seaport Museum, and a small number of residents.

Big changes are coming this year. A development team is restoring 11 19th-century buildings on Front St. and converting them to apartments while building three new low-rise residential buildings on the block between Peck Slip and Beekman St. The Fish Market is expected to move to Hunt’s Point in the Bronx at the end of this year or early next year, and the Rouse Co., which operates the mall, is hoping to bring in some type of entertainment center to some of the market buildings.

The mall has suffered from retail vacancy problems over the years and Rouse is working on a master plan to revive it. The firm has the first rights to two of the fish market buildings once they are vacant and has been in discussions with various firms about bringing in new attractions.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and the city are also studying ways to bring more residents, better retail and amenities to Fulton St.

John Evans, vice president at Sciame Development, one of the firms restoring the Front St. buildings, said many of the 95 apartments should be ready to open by the end of the year. He said the new residents will help attract more neighborhood-type retail.

“Things that make sense for a neighborhood don’t necessarily have to make sense for tourists,” Evans said. He is hoping to see things like restaurants, cafes, a bike shop and a spa.

With several large residential conversions underway in the Financial District nearby, Evans thinks the Seaport will be a natural place for these residents to go when they are looking to relax off-hours and on the weekends.

“If you want to get a coffee, you want to find a neighborhood,” he said. “We’re hoping we become the hub for that activity.”

The $47 million Front St. project is being done by Sciame, Zuberry Associates and the Durst Organization, who received tax-free Liberty Bonds. The bonds are part of a federal program to help Lower Manhattan rebuild after 9/11. The decaying, city-owned buildings had languished for years until the Sciame team bought them.

Sciame is also working with Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava on a design for a slender, 835-foot condo building with cubed-shaped townhouses cantilevered over each other. Evans said it would be about a year before the complicated and expensive project is ready for construction at 80 South St. The base of the building would likely have a museum or cultural center.

Another renowned architect, Frank Gehry, has his sights on the parking lot next to NYU Downtown Hospital. The hospital, Pace University and Forest City Ratner are planning a 50-story building with a mix of outpatient facilities, dorms, a business school, apartments, a gallery and some community space. No design renderings have been released and local residents have raised objections to the proposed size of the building.