Seaport Museum gets key support to expand offerings

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC  |  The tide may be turning for the South Street Seaport Museum — it was awarded over $10 million in August and is now vying for almost $5 million to renovate and upgrade its spaces on Water St.

Struggling since Superstorm Sandy, the museum, which at one point estimated it needed $22 million to fix all the damage, was awarded a grant of $10.4 million for repairs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

It is now looking to grab a piece of the $50 million pie that the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation is offering.

Boulware said the $10.4 million is a “very strong start” but the museum needs money to renovate and upgrade its spaces from 207 to 215 Water St. Currently, the Melville Gallery at 213 Water St. is open to the public but the floors above are not.

Citing the museum’s charter to be an educational institution, Boulware said that the roughly 11,000 sq. ft. of new space in the Melville Gallery and above it would allow the museum to have classroom and community space.

Historically, said Boulware, the South Street Seaport Museum had excellent preschool, summer and afterschool programs.

“These are the things we’re focused on,” he said.

Program enrollment is up — it is three times what it was for last year, he said. The museum, he said, is a community anchor, could be a programmatic powerhouse again and is a draw to the district that’s unique.

“People will come to see the ships and walk the piers,” he said.

Catherine McVay Hughes, C.B. 1 chairperson, said, “I think this is the most exciting news that we’ve heard from the South Street Seaport. I think this is something that we totally welcome.”

Hughes, an L.M.D.C. board member, is one of three people evaluating the grant applications on the development corporation’s working group. She pointed out the east side of the district lacks community space.

“This completely fills — in a wonderful way — a void in this part of the district,” she said.

The committee and subsequently the full board passed a resolution in support of the museum’s proposal.

Boulware said one of the key components that the L.M.D.C. has for awarding grants is a demonstration of community support. If the museum gets the money, it would take three years to complete its renovation.