Waiting game continues for Seaport group

BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | No news is no news. The Seaport Museum New York volunteers that formed a group called “Save Our Seaport” to help get the museum back on its feet after it started laying off staff in February and closed its exhibits still has no concrete information as to what is happening to the museum at 12 Fulton St. and its eight historic ships.

On Aug. 11, around 20 members of the group, including Peter Stanford, founder of the 40-year-old museum and its first president, met in an upstairs room at Meade’s restaurant on Peck Slip to take stock of the situation. In the last two months, the group has collected almost 6,000 signatures on a petition addressed to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Kate D. Levin, commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. The petition states, “The Museum’s collections, environs and its historic ships must be protected. We urge that they once again be made available to the public in New York City, under new leadership and with a new commitment to the Museum’s original mission.”

“Most of these signatures are from this area,” said David Sheldon, who chaired the meeting and who said that the petitions would be delivered to City Hall within the next few weeks.

“We would like to put this petition in the mayor’s hands, directly,” said Mike Cohen, who sailed on the museum’s 1885 schooner Pioneer for 25 years and was its relief captain for 23 years.

Along with the Seaport Museum’s other historic ships, the Pioneer has not left the dock this summer. In previous years, between spring and fall the ship made numerous trips around the harbor every week, sometimes just to see the sights, sometimes for wine tasting, sometimes with educators from the museum on board who talked to kids and their elders about the ecology of the harbor and its history.

Although the Pioneer and another of the Seaport Museum’s vessels, the Lettie G. Howard, recently were recertified by the U.S. Coast Guard as fit to carry passengers, there is no indication from anyone at the Seaport Museum New York as to when that will happen. Mary Ellen Pelzer, the president of the museum, and Frank Sciame, chairman of its board of directors, were supposed to appear at Community Board 1’s Seaport/Civic Center meetings in May and June but failed to show up.

The Save Our Seaport group is adamant that the museum needs new management. There had been hope that this could come from the Museum of the City of New York, but though a meeting in July was cordial, it was inconclusive and at this time, no follow-up meeting has been planned.

Save Our Seaport has had no access to the books showing the Seaport Museum’s finances but claims that other maritime museums are solvent and this one could be, too. The group hopes to create an advisory council of maritime professionals who could show how this could be done. Stanford has some specific people in mind for this panel.

“They will say yes,” said Stanford.

In addition to being concerned about the ships themselves, the Save Our Seaport group is worried about what may happen at Pier 15, which was recently rehabilitated by the Economic Development Corp. as part of its development of the East River Esplanade. Several of the Seaport Museum’s vessels are berthed at Pier 16 and need the space between the piers in order to maneuver.

A Request for Proposals for an enclosed pavilion on the western side of Pier 15 was issued by the E.D.C. The proposals were also to include ideas for berthing and tie-up space on the south, east, and northeast sides of Pier 15 and, at the respondent’s option, permanent and/or transient berthing and tie-up space along the north side apron of Pier 15.

The R.F.P.s were due back to the E.D.C. on Aug. 16.

“To us, it’s not the piers that matter. It’s the space between the piers,” said Cohen.

The Save Our Seaport group has no formal structure, no dues and no agenda except to “bring back life to the museum as part of this community,” in the words of Nelson Chin, one of its members. All of the members had been volunteers at the Seaport Museum.

“The only thing we have in common is love of these ships,” said Sheldon. “Anybody who’s thinking of taking on this museum should know the incredible variety of skills we have.”

Members of the Save Our Seaport group will man a stall at the New Amsterdam Market through the fall to provide information. The market is on South Street near Peck Slip and is open on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“I think it’s important to show that we’re still here,” said Chin.

Save Our Seaport’s next meeting will be on Aug. 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the John St. Methodist Church, 44 John St. For more information, go to the group’s website at www.saveourseaport.wordpress.com/.