November 2017
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Fulfilling the Seaport’s Promise

front street south seaport

The Belgian-block streets of the South Street Seaport may no longer echo with the bustle of the Fulton Fish Market, but New York City’s rich maritime tradition is still inscribed in its buildings, its piers and, of course, its shore. The seaport embodies nearly the full history of New York City’s waterfront — it was the engine that drove the city before being cut off from people’s daily lives by industry, highways and pollution.

Now, as the city turns its attention back to the water, we have the opportunity to make the seaport into the truly great living neighborhood of history, recreation and high-quality new development that its saviors a generation ago intended it to be.

A collaborative effort of local residents and partners in the civic, public and private sectors, including the MAS and its Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, is drawing together to take advantage of the changes coming to the area around the seaport to strengthen its fabric for residents, downtown workers and tourists.

A Perfect Storm – Entirely a New York City historic district since 1989, the seaport finds itself in the eye of a storm of development. In March 2005, the city released its exciting vision for Lower Manhattan’s East River waterfront. The proposal would fill in the two-mile gap, whose heart is the seaport, between the waterfront parks at the Battery and the Lower East Side.

At the same time, the city and state are working on plans for Governors Island and Brooklyn Bridge Park. When completed, these three waterfront parks will form a triangle of green and blue. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, meanwhile, is working on its Fulton Street plan, and the Fulton Fish Market made its long-awaited move to the Bronx in November, while the Drawing Center now plans to move to the seaport.

In addition, the private sector has been changing the seaport. General Growth Properties, a real estate company, recently took over the South Street Seaport mall from the Rouse Corporation and is also choosing to exercise its lease option on two of the former fish market buildings. And new residents are moving into Historic Front Street — a block of buildings that Sciame Development and partners refitted.

Common Ground – The businesses and developers, residents, museum professionals, and civic organizations are coming together as Seaport Speaks. This forum is united by a common interest in preserving the area’s unique character and harnessing this next wave of development to support and enhance this uniqueness for all. This effort also has the support and participation of the local council member, Alan J. Gerson, the Department of City Planning, the Economic Development Corporation, and several local property owners.

The community is especially concerned with Peck Slip and other public open spaces, the waterfront from Pier 15 to the beach north of Pier 17, the historic fish market buildings, the South Street Seaport Museum, which recently changed leadership, and the mechanisms for funding and overseeing the seaport in the future.

Next Steps – Seaport Speaks is organizing a design charrette and public program this spring that will involve stakeholders and experts in urban planning, preservation, architecture, landscape design, retail and cultural tourism. The goal is that the emerging ideas and visions will enrich the city’s East River waterfront plan and, more broadly, inspire private and public development that protects the seaport’s historic legacy while fostering a vibrant neighborhood for residents and businesses. By bringing the public’s focus back to the area at this critical time, this survivor of New York City’s maritime past can show the city how to craft its waterfront future.