Save the Seaport with The New Amsterdam Market!

The Seaport3

I've been a long-time fan of the South Street Seaport, which is unusual for a Native New Yorker, I know. Most people think of it as just another tourist spot, which I get...but that's because for a long while, it had little to offer the everyday New Yorker--aside from Happy Hour Specials if you worked nearby (read: Wall Street). Now, as a Spring baby I am always looking for a place where I can sit outside and enjoy a drink or four and maybe some bites to go with it. This is what drew me to the Seaport several years ago, when it was just blocks from my Jersey City commute. Cheap Beer and Fresh Air. Over the years, however, there have been several festivals that have found a home at the seaport along with some great bars and restaurants in the area. There's the annual Oktoberfest that features beer and bands, a Food Truck Cinco de Mayo and all sorts of fun things in between. One of the other additions to the area has been The New Amsterdam Market, which brings vendors from throughout the NYC area to sell their goods on rotation, and often with themes, like the  Annual Ice Cream Sunday, that I was able to partake in last year! SOOO good...AND sooo bad for me...good thing there were small tastings!

Ice Cream Sunday @ New Amsterdam Market

So what does this have to so with "saving the seaport"? Well, if you're unaware, the Fulton Fish Market used to be in this area, which gives it a great deal of significance in the history of NYC agriculture. Of course, since that market moved to Brooklyn, the space hasn't had any permanent inhabitants in this prime real estate. So, The New Amsterdam Market Organization has a movement to provide the city-owned space for retailers and wholesalers that are local, therefore keeping our $ local, and also being more attractive for New Yorkers to spend their time and money in the area. This would be INSTEAD of the corporate proposal being considered, which brings in big-box retailers and a glass-box mall.  Last week there was a city council hearing on the topic and tomorrow there will be a rally at City Hall! Please sign the petition, and make your voice heard at the rally tomorrow, if you can!


Below is an article about the market from The New York Times


LAST December something strange took place at the abandoned Fulton Fish Market on South Street: Fishermen came and sold fish.        

On what would turn out to be the coldest day of the winter, a dozen-odd mongers trundled down to the Tin Building in their beat-up vans and pickups. They wrote the day’s prices on chalkboards, stacked their wares on ice in wooden crates and, when throngs of shoppers appeared, they managed to sell quite a bit of porgy, pollock, flounder, tilefish, monkfish, clams, crabs and oysters — everything that to this day still swims in New York State’s bountiful waters. In a bid for the market’s freshest fish, live, Bronx-farmed tilapia were also on offer.        

The Fulton Fish Market, located on the southeast side of Manhattan, is a fixture in New York lore, even though the formal operation moved to the Bronx seven years ago. Sadly, despite clear evidence that New Yorkers are willing to return — in droves, even in freezing weather — Fulton’s historic buildings are being left to rot even as the rest of the adjacent waterfront is about to get a slick, commercialized makeover.        

December’s one-day “Gathering of Fisheries” was staged by New Amsterdam Market, an economic development corporation founded in 2005 to promote the preservation of the two empty Fulton Fish Market buildings and their revival as a regional food distribution center, cultural destination and vital anchor to the South Street Seaport historic district.        

The New Amsterdam Market may be a new kid on the block, but it’s part of a centuries-old tradition: long before the construction of the F.D.R. Drive or even the Brooklyn Bridge, Fulton Market was the largest and most important food showcase in Greater New York. Indeed, locals have been buying and selling fish (and meat, and cheese and produce) along this stretch of East River shoreline since the mid-1600s, when the first food markets of New Amsterdam sprang up around the ferry landing at Peck Slip.        

At least six known public markets emerged in this same neighborhood through the ensuing centuries, eventually giving birth to the Fulton Fish Market, which did business on this spot from the early 1800s until the fateful day in 2005 when it was finally shuttered, with the market moved to Hunts Point in the Bronx.        

The two sheds that housed the market have sat moldering ever since. The pilings that support them are eroding, and memories are fading.        

Yes, development is coming to the area. Last month the Howard Hughes Corporation put forth a plan to refurbish nearby Pier 17 to include two big-box-size anchor tenants and several dozen other retailers within a glass-encased 250,000-square-foot mall. A development of this size will promise employment and tax dollars to the city. But what it can’t do is create a synergy of commerce and culture that does justice to the neighborhood’s storied past while leading it to an equally inspiring future. Nor is it likely to create new local businesses.        

The old Fulton Fish Market and its city-owned buildings, which are not included in the Howard Hughes proposal, most certainly could. Currently the historic market sheds are victims of a kind of planned forgetfulness, lost in bureaucratic limbo that could lead to outright abandonment at best, eventual demolition at worst. What better use for these iconic waterfront structures than to house a permanent market to nurture and support small, innovative businesses dedicated to regional food systems?        

Such adaptive reuse of public property is not only the most appropriate but also the most exciting future for the Fulton Fish Market. As the High Line   project proved, reclaiming old infrastructure for contemporary needs creates new and compelling forms of public space while generating significant economic development. A permanent, year-round market at this site would host not just local fish sellers but also the regional cheesemongers, produce sellers, butchers, purveyors and distributors of all stripes that are beginning to proliferate in New York.        

And with fisheries beginning to rebuild all up and down the East Coast, South Street could again become a place where fishermen and their dealers might sell their catch directly to city chefs and a public clamoring for local product — a public that has been rapidly re-colonizing Lower Manhattan and turning it into one of the most compelling new real-estate destinations in the city.        

Of course, the region’s free-spirited fishermen will have to get reacquainted with the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. But with a thriving, reimagined market blooming right on the waterfront, they might just abandon the headache of big-city traffic and leave their old vans and pickup trucks at home.  One day, just as they did a century ago, they might just choose to arrive at the Fulton Market by boat.        

Robert LaValva, Paul Greenberg and Dave Pasternack  are, respectively, the founder of the New Amsterdam Market, the author of “Four Fish” and the chef and a co-creator of the restaurants Esca and Il Pesce.

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