City to 'Activate' Seaport Streets. And Some Ask, How Active?

In the summer of 2014, food carts on pedestrian-only Fulton Street brought complaints from Community Board 1. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Dec. 15, 2019

The city has plans to liven up the pedestrian-only streets of the South Street Seaport. But just how lively is a question of concern at Community Board 1.

The Economic Development Corp., the city agency that oversees the district’s historic cobblestone streets—Fulton, Water and Front—is looking to complete a concession agreement next month that would allow for a wide variety of activities to be staged on the streets throughout the year.

“We’re excited about simplifying the process to activate these streets and bring more community and public events to these spaces,” the EDC’s Wil Fisher told CB1’s Land Use, Zoning and Cultural Committee last week,  “to help make the Seaport a more vibrant and entertaining place.”

But some members of the committee fear the streets could become too entertaining for the good of local residents.

“In essence you’re turning the Seaport into a pseudo year-round street fair,” said committee member Paul Goldstein. “And even street fairs are subject to community board review. They are not just approved willy-nilly.”

“There are a lot of waterfront areas throughout the world that succeed without resorting to this,” he added.

“When I come home at 7 or 6, I don’t want to see a street fair still buzzing around,” said another committee member, Vicky Cameron. “I need the peace.”

Next month the EDC expects to complete an agreement with another city oversight agency, the Department of Small Business Services, that would make the streets open to both commercial and non-profit concessions and activities year-round, starting next spring, for a one-year test run. The EDC would have a rolling request for proposals on its web site, with 95 percent of them expected to be one-day events, officials said. 

The city would have a role in selecting activities that, until now, only required the consent of the Howard Hughes Corp., which leases much of the Seaport’s city-owned property.

The new policy also would allow the city to collect revenue from the concessions, estimated at $80,000 annually, to go towards improvements in the Seaport, much of it expected to benefit the South Street Seaport Museum. Commercial uses such as film shoots, product promotions and food stands would be charged a fee while non-profit groups could stage events for free.

“Honestly, the only reason we’re going through this is to make it more equitable and allow other people outside of Howard Hughes to charge [fees],” said Sabrina Lippman of EDC. “And more than anything,” she added, “to allocate those revenues in some fashion towards helping the Seaport Museum. That was the only intent.”

EDC officials acknowledged that the community board would not have a say in approving individual events, but could set acceptable criteria in advance. The committee voted not to approve the plan unless EDC accepted its conditions, which it had yet to set in writing