Downtown Express recently published an article about the faltering finances of the Seaport Museum New York, the historic component to South Street Seaport, a museum/shopping development opened in the 1980s. The key phrase was: “…the problem lies in the clash between the district’s commercial character and the museum’s historic presence.”
In response to the story, I wrote a Letter to the Editor. They didn’t publish it; all their letters this week address the SoHo Business Improvement District (BID) concerns. So, here’s the letter now on Groundswell – feedback welcome!
Re: “Seaport Museum flounders, but hasn’t yet sunk,” (Vol. 20, Number 41, Feb. 23rd-March 1st)
My family has been in the West Village for over thirty years, and I remember skipping through the fanfare of South Street Seaport as a kid in the early 1980s. Thinking back on the years that followed, my family returned to the area occasionally with out-of-town guests. It was a way to spend time with visitors; however, as a local family, it did not have an enduring draw. During the 1980s-1990s, I went to the Seaport five or six times. In 1999, while on an escalator to the food court, two visitors summarized my feelings about it, as one said to the other, “I feel like we could be home in Minneapolis.”
I’m not writing to disparage Minneapolis. On the contrary, I’m writing with great respect for the uniqueness of local communities everywhere. In our shared city, I have recently returned to the Seaport regularly for one vibrant, new venue: The New Amsterdam Market. In the past 18 months, I have visited the market – and its host neighborhood – at least a dozen times. It’s held in the same place where the Dutch started their markets 400 years ago. Its vendors are food entrepreneurs from this region. When I buy produce there from the Queens County Farm Museum, I support the only continuously working farm in New York City since the 1600s. Now in my weekly grocery shopping, I experience the history of the Seaport and the city.
In this same issue of Downtown Express, there was a great article about the Taste of Tribeca, described as one of the “most anticipated” spring events downtown. In the Letters to the Editor section, SoHo residents lamented that their neighborhood has become “a shopping mall for tourists.” Isn’t it evident from these two topics alone that New York City is strongest when we celebrate our extraordinary neighborhoods?
I hope the Seaport Museum New York survives its difficulties. This is not an “either/or” debate. Cultural and historical venues always improve our city. As for this New Yorker, I look forward to returning to the New Amsterdam Market this spring. I hope the city understands it’s time to give the market a permanent home in the Seaport. The locals would love that.