South Street Seaport reaches milestone with museum reopening

The Fulton Market at the South Street Seaport, Tuesday, Mar. 8, 2016.
The Fulton Market at the South Street Seaport, Tuesday, Mar. 8, 2016. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Theo Wargo

Despite being devastated by Superstorm Sandy just four years ago, many business owners on the cobblestone streets of the South Street Seaport are optimistic for the future.

Their positivity is due in part to the Howard Hughes Corporation’s $1.7 billion efforts to revitalize the area. The real estate development firm is working on several projects, focused around the reconstruction of Pier 17, which was home to a massive shopping mall that shuttered about a year after the storm.

The developer’s plans for the pier’s reconstruction, slated for completion in 2017, include 300,000 square feet of retail space, a restaurant from celebrity chef John-Georges and a luxury movie theatre from iPic Entertainment.

Howard Hughes also plans to restore the Tin Building, which formerly housed the Fulton Fish Market and is slated to be a food market.

Longstanding New York businesses like Bowne Printers, who are Seaport veterans, and SoHo’s McNally Jackson Books will also have a home in the Seaport district.

“The work of the Howard Hughes Corporation has been essential for the revitalization of the area,” said local business owner Harry Young.

Young owns the boutique art supply shop Local Artists, at 93 South St., and is in the process of opening a new bar and art gallery called Artist’s Loft at 181 Front St.

Meanwhile, the South Street Seaport Museum at 12 Fulton St. will host its first exhibit since the 2012 storm. Jonathan Boulware, the museum’s executive director, said the exhibit is the next step in the Seaport’s recovery.

“I think the seaport has always been a special place in the city,” Boulware said. “We’re making a real effort at bringing the museum not just back to life, but back to its educational excellency.”

The exhibit, “Street of Ships: the Ports and Its People,” will be held on the first floor of the museum starting Wednesday March 16, and will feature items from the museum’s historic collection.

Sandy’s storm surge flooded the first floor of the museum, wiping out elevators and escalators, along with its electrical, heating and air-conditioning systems.

Luckily, all items of historic value were spared, including the iron-hulled ship Wavertree docked at Pier 17.

Avoiding a repeat of the damage should the city experience another major storm was one of the museum’s main goals in its renovation process, Boulware said.

Its new elevators and escalators are more resilient to storm surges, and the electrical systems were moved to the second floor, he said.

But despite the growth and preparations, business owners are wary of going underwater again.

“There isn’t any doubt that these kinds of things will happen again,” Boulware said of the storm damage.

Marco Pasanella, a local resident and owner of Pasanella & Son Vintners, a wine shop at 115 South St., said more preparations are still needed to protect the area in the future.

“We’re really no better prepared [than] we were the day before Sandy,” he said.

The city’s plans for to protect the Seaport rely on an engineering study to be completed first, which Pasanella, who chairs the Seaport Committee for the local Community Board 1, said doesn’t prepare for immediate dangers.

“The city has been focusing on long-term strategies for tackling what is a complex problem,” Pasanella said. “I think, however, without looking toward the short and medium term.”

He suggested more immediate protections against storm surges, such as an inflatable seawall that could be temporarily constructed in times of emergency.

According to Austin Finan, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, the city is developing a $20 billion storm resiliency plan for the five boroughs, with an additional $100 million earmarked for flood protection in lower Manhattan.

Finan did not comment on how soon the city will use the money to construct storm protections, but said private-public programs like Business Prep are helping small businesses prepare for emergencies.

In the meantime, the public needs to keep paying attention to the city’s storm preparation at the Seaport, Boulware said.

“I am optimistic, but the planning for the future is not yet settled,” he said. “New Yorkers, in general, need to pay attention to that, and recognize this crown jewel of New York.”

Here are some of the most notable plans the Howard Hughes Corporation has in store for the revitalized South Street Seaport. For more info, visit Southstreetseaport.com.

– The reopening of the Seaport Museum on Wednesday, March 16, with the “Street of Ships: the Ports and Its People” exhibit.

– The reconstruction of Pier 17 to include a shopping mall with 300,000 square feet of retail space and a restaurant from celebrity chef John-Georges, as well as a luxury movie theatre from iPic Entertainment.

– The restoration of the Tin Building to house a new food market.

– A port for the New York Water Taxi and Hornblower Cruises & Events.