Seaport Museum’s days are numbered, but C.B. 1 says save it

The South Street Seaport Museum's Pioneer. Downtown Express file photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer.
The South Street Seaport Museum’s Pioneer. Downtown Express file photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer.

BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER  | The Museum of the City of New York’s contract as manager of the South Street Seaport Museum expires July 5. There is no word as to whether it will be extended and if not, what will happen to the museum.

“It’s still under discussion,” said Jeff Simmons, a spokesperson for both museums.

With time running out, Catherine McVay Hughes, chairperson of Community Board 1, has written an urgent letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, asking for his intervention.

The June 6 letter speaks of C.B. 1’s “extreme concern over the South Street Seaport Museum, and references Susan Henshaw Jones’ “remarkable leadership” as director of both museums.

The Museum of the City of New York has been managing the Seaport Museum since the fall of 2011, and had gone a long way to restoring it to financial solvency when Superstorm Sandy inflicted an estimated $22 million worth of damage.

The museum had to close its galleries at 12 Fulton St. on April 7 because they no longer had adequate air conditioning and climate controls to protect the displays. However, the museum’s store and printing shop, Bowne & Co. and Bowne Printers on Water St., remain open and in an adjoining space, woodcarver Sal Polisi continues to function.

The museum’s 1885 schooner, Pioneer, also continues to take passengers on harbor sails.

Hughes’ letter says that C.B. 1 has been working with the Seaport Museum to urge the Museum of the City of New York to extend its contract by four months. The community board believes that this extension would give the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which owns and manages the Seaport, The Howard Hughes Corporation, which has a long-term lease on parts of the Seaport, and the museum time “to communicate in order to ensure the preservation of the South Street Seaport Museum.”

C.B. 1 has repeatedly urged these parties to sit down and talk face to face, but so far, it hasn’t happened. “We have experienced extreme difficulty in achieving any progress in this matter,” the letter says.

There is currently no agreement or lifeline that would keep the South Street Seaport Museum and its historic vessels afloat.

“Losing this iconic and historic institution would not only be a devastating loss for the Lower Manhattan community, but also for the City of New York,” the letter says.

All of the officials representing Lower Manhattan were copied on the letter as were Borough President Scott Stringer, First Deputy Mayor Patricia E. Harris, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert K. Steel, Economic Development Corporation President Seth W. Pinsky, Commissioner of Cultural Affairs Kate D. Levin, the Board of Directors of the Museum of the City of New York and Susan Henshaw Jones.

The letter was emailed and posted on June 6. As of June 20, neither the Mayor nor any of those copied on the letter had responded.

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