New Amsterdam Market Will Be No More, Its Founder Announces

A busy New Amsterdam Market on South Street. Eight-eight markets have been held since the first one in December 2007. File photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Posted
Jul. 14, 2014

UPDATED 7/14/14, 8:30 p.m.

In a sudden mid-season announcement on Monday, New Amsterdam Market founder Robert LaValva said he was calling a halt to the market's six-year run on South Street.

A "Thank You and Farewell" email letter sent to supporters said that he lacked the financial and political backing he needed to maintain the market and that the market held last month was its last.

At its height, the market operated weekly from May to December and hosted more than 60 regional vendors selling a wide range of organic produce as well as fish, cheese, ice cream, pickles, pie, wines and much more. 

In the last two years, the markets had become sporadic as LaValva seemed to be more focused on a campaign to oppose the city’s ongoing Seaport development process. The New Amsterdam Market, however, had recently announced its schedule of monthly markets through December.

LaValva's decision was unexpected, even by the non-profit organization's board of directors.

"It was a surprise to us. An unfortunate surprise," said board member Roland Lewis, who is also president of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance. "We had recent conversations with Robert and we thought the market was doing well, and it is doing well."

In his letter, LaValva said he was unable to "raise funding or attract influential backers needed for our organization to thrive." But he put much of the blame on Councilwoman Margaret Chin, whose support last year for a redevelopment plan for the Seaport's Pier 17 he had bitterly opposed.

According to LaValva, his market and the Seaport's historical place as a maritime district was threatened by city-approved zoning changes. Those changes, unopposed by Chin and all but one City Council member—the now Borough President Gale Brewer—allowed Howard Hughes Corp. to go ahead with a $200 million rebuilding of the mall on Pier 17 and exercise its option on the development of other Seaport properties.

"We were dealt a mortal blow in 2013 when Council Member Chin, who had long professed to support our cause, betrayed the community in favor of a suburban shopping mall developer, Howard Hughes," LaValva wrote. 

Chin quickly and angrily responded to LaValva's assertion.

"It would be an understatement to say that I am deeply disappointed by Robert LaValva’s email attacking me as part of his announcement of the closure," she said in a statement.

Chin noted that her office helped the market obtain funding from the City Council and Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and with “opportunities to formalize his relationship with the City." (Over three years of City Council funding, the market received $115,000 and, in 2011, a $250,000 grant from the LMDC.) 

"Now, Mr. LaValva is trying to publicly blame me for something that he could have prevented by working more collaboratively with my office and the City," she said. "That might make for an attention-grabbing email, but it’s not the truth."

(Emails to LaValva on Monday requesting comment were returned with an autoreply saying he is unavailable by phone or email until July 21.)

Lewis said he agrees with LaValva that Chin was "probably more in favor of the Howard Hughes development than a lot of us are." But he indicated that LaValva unfairly demonized Chin as a cause of the market’s demise.

"Her support of the market itself has been solid, so we appreciate it," Lewis said. "To pin the two together is, in my opinion, wrong."

Members of Save Our Seaport, the group leading the fight against the Howard Hughes Corp.’s development plans for the Seaport, were dismayed to hear of the end to the market.

“We’re disappointed,” said David Sheldon, an organizer of the group. “It’s a loss for the city. It’s a loss for the district, it’s a loss for us.”

“What’s lost in the short term is we don’t have a wonderful market that might have grown and thrived here,” member Rona Kluger said. “In the long term, we’ve just basically lost one more shot at having a really nice urban historic fabric.”

Catherine McVay Hughes, the chair of Community Board 1, called the market’s end “sad news to the community and probably a lot of people around New York who have enjoyed the market,” she said. “We are disappointed because the New Amsterdam Market was a great addition to the community and an example of what hard work and creativity can bring.”

The announcement comes as Howard Hughes Corp. prepares a revised version of its controversial Seaport redevelopment plans, which had included a 50-story tower where the New Market Building stands, next to Pier 17. LaValva had wanted to see an expanded market that would include the New Market Building as well as the historic Tin Building next door, also to be developed by Hughes Corp.

LaValva and his supporters, including Save Our Seaport, have opposed a tower on the site and LaValva was not invited to participate in a large working group meant to influence how the Seaport is developed. He said he had been told that he was excluded because of possible conflict of interest, since the market may become part of the plan. LaValva said he didn’t believe it.

Now, it appears, he is out of the picture entirely.

“He is brilliant and and I am so disappointed that he gave up so soon,” Julie Finch, a Save Our Seaport member, said of LaValva.  “We haven't even finished working on defending this neighborhood.”

But board member Roland Lewis said it is too soon to call this the end of the New Amsterdam Market. The board of directors, he said, is planning to meet right away to “discuss options in the future.”

"Give us a chance to regroup," Lewis said. "Maybe we’ll come back stronger than ever."

 

 

Below is LaValva's letter announcing his decision.

 

July 14, 2014

Dear Friends:

I am sorry to announce that New Amsterdam Market has ended, and will no longer take place on South Street.

Founded in 2005, New Amsterdam Market was first staged at the site of the Old Fulton Fish Market in Lower Manhattan on December 16, 2007. Over the ensuing seven years, the market grew in frequency and scope while nurturing an evolving community of small businesses dedicated to sustainable food production, regional economies, and fair trade.   

Through our steadfast presence under every adversity, we also championed the preservation of New York City's oldest commons, where public trade has been conducted since 1642.  We held a total 88 markets and numerous innovative celebrations of our region's bounty; supported nearly 500 food entrepreneurs; and contributed to the creation of more than 350 jobs.  

However, I was never able to raise the funding or attract the influential backers needed for our organization to thrive.  Furthermore, we were dealt a mortal blow in 2013 when Council Member Chin, who had long professed to support our cause, betrayed the community in favor of a suburban shopping mall developer, Howard Hughes.  As a result, Lower Manhattan has already lost more than one acre of beloved and irreplaceable public space and is now seeing its most precious public asset ruined by inappropriate programming and terrible waterfront design.

Our last market at this location was held on Saturday, June 21, 2014.

I thank all of you who supported this endeavor.

Sincerely,

Robert LaValva, Founder
New Amsterdam Market