New Amsterdam Market closes, surprising its board & the Seaport

Back in 2011, Councilmember Margaret Chin, center, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, joined New Amsterdam Market founder  Robert LaValva, for the market's opening for the season. Downtown Express file photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer.
Back in 2011, Councilmember Margaret Chin, center, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, joined New Amsterdam Market founder Robert LaValva, for the market’s opening for the season. Downtown Express file photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer.

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, 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, regional economies, and fair trade.

“Through our steadfast presence under every adversity, 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 numerous innovative celebrations of our region’s bounty; supported nearly 500 food entrepreneurs; 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 and is now seeing its most precious public asset ruined by inappropriate programming and terrible waterfront design.”

He closed by noting that the last market was held Saturday, June 21 and thanked everyone who supported the green market organization.

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, as its members will attest, 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.

“Instead, 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.”

Chin closed by writing: “Once again, I look forward to working with the board of the New Amsterdam Market in order to find positive solutions that will help our Lower Manhattan community.”

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.

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.”

Similarly, Water St. resident Matthew Rosenstein said, “For those of us who have lived in the Seaport for a while and who have taken this neighborhood into our hearts, it’s very difficult to see yet another threat to its unique character. 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?”

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

Over the years, the New Amsterdam Market did receive more than $300,000 in public funds.

In 2011, the City Council allocated $25,000 to the organization. They received $45,000 from the Council in both 2012 and 2013. After 2013, Chin’s District 1 office received no applications for City Council funding from the group.According to her office, Council Member Chin also helped the New Amsterdam Market secure $250,000 in L.M.D.C. funding in recent years.

Last month there was a new signal of the market’s troubles. American Catch, a nighttime market fest, was canceled three days before its scheduled date. At the time, LaValva cited new regulations regarding raw, cured, picked and smoked seafood at outdoor events had gone into effect. Tickets were refunded.

This week, the organization’s web site was erased by afternoon Monday and only part of LaValva’s memo was all that remained.

There’s no word whether a scheduled August 13th fundraiser to benefit the New Amsterdam Market –  “Seafood Soiree” ($75) per person, featuring fresh and sustainable local seafood, sponsored by Edible Manhattan magazine and The Water Club on the restaurant’s rooftop –  will take place.