CB1: City lied to media about informing public of plans to level historic Fish Market building

The New Market Building opened at the Seaport’s Fulton Fish Market in 1939, after the earlier building collapsed in 1936.
Courtesy of the NYC Design Commission Archives


It’s a fishy situation.

Local civic honchos and preservationists championing Downtown’s historic South Street Seaport District are fuming after the city’s Economic Development Corporation falsly claimed to  New York real estate magazine that members of Community Board 1 were kept informed of a controversial scheme to bulldoze a historic 1939 Fulton Fish Market building, according to the civic group’s leader.

“It’s outrageous,” said Community Board 1 Chairman Anthony Notaro. “The plans themselves are a problem, and the behavior of EDC in not being transparent is a problem.”

Representatives for EDC claimed to the Real Deal that the city “worked closely with Community Board 1 and elected officials” in planning the New Market Building’s demolition, according to a report on the magazine website on Jan. 4.

But in reality, EDC didn’t even bother asking board members to weigh in on plans for the historic building’s destruction, and instead informed board staff only last week about the city’s unilateral decision to level the nearly 80-year-old Seaport icon, according to Notaro.

“Last week, EDC came to the staff at CB1 and told them they were planning to do this,” Notaro said. “Not much more detail than that was given. That set off alarms with me.”

But a spokeswoman for EDC claimed the city has to demolish the neglected, decades-old building, left the dilapidated edifice collapse and turn unwary passerby into fish food.

“In 2015, our engineers determined the structural condition of the New Market Building at the South Street Seaport was in danger of collapsing,” said Shavone Williams. “EDC is taking appropriate action in managing demolition for the building to ensure the safety for residents in this community.”

And there’s nothing fishy about the way EDC has gone about the demo project, according to Williams, who said CB1 has known about the building’s structural faults and possible demolition for more than two years.

The South Street Seaport area has been the subject of extensive redevelopment in recent years, with EDC and the Howard Hughes Corporation working closely to revitalize the historic slice of Downtown’s shipping heritage. The developer is currently knee-deep in construction of a massive shopping and entertainment complex at Pier 17, and in retrofitting the historic Tin Building to serve as a food hall headed by celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Howard Hughes’s ambitious designs for the Fulton Fish Market, on the other hand, have struggled in the face of opposition from local residents and preservationists from the Save Our Seaport group, who persuaded the developer to abandon plans to build massive residential and commercial towers on the site.

Save Our Seaport preservationists have likewise denounced the city’s intention to demolish the fish market building, and the group instead wants EDC to foot a $10 million renovation bill as a prelude to installing a cultural maritime center there, according to one Save Our Seaport member.

“If demolition and development become the order of the day, we will lose the essence of this historic district that contains some of New York City’s oldest buildings, historic ships, and the South Street Seaport Museum,” read a statement by David Sheldon on Jan. 4. “Our vision enables the growth of a viable neighborhood with an ongoing maritime practice and tradition.”

Notaro has arranged a meeting with EDC officials tentatively scheduled for next Tuesday, where he hopes to learn more about the city’s demolition plan, and discuss the apparent “transparency” problems surrounding the project.

“We’re going to get to the bottom of this,” he said.

There are currently no future plans for how to utilize Fulton Fish Market site after the building’s demolished, according to Williams, who said the agency will be sure to keep locals abreast of any future developments —this time.

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