Weeks After Storm Much of Seaport, FiDi Remains Shut Down

Map shows many of the residential and major commercial buildings that were still shuttered this week. The Tribeca Trib

For nearly two weeks, Jen Mendenhall has been living in a state of limbo.

Since Hurricane Sandy flooded the basement of her high-rise apartment building at 2 Gold Street, Mendenhall and her fiance have been couch surfing with friends, waiting for news about when they could return home. On Tuesday, they finally got an answer: No one will be returning to the 52-story apartment building until March.

"We left thinking we were going to be gone for two weeks to a month," said Mendenhall, who is now staying in a hotel room paid for by FEMA. "By no means was I expecting March 1st. Especially not for a building of that size. I have no idea what we are going to do."

Two weeks after Hurricane Sandy, Mendenhall is among thousands of residential and commercial tenants in the Financial District and Seaport area who remain displaced by the storm.

Although the Department of Buildings has only found seven buildings in Lower Manhattan that were structurally damaged in the hurricane, countless buildings in blocks near the Hudson and East rivers flooded, causing significant damage to mechanical systems in the basement that in some cases will take months to repair.

As some buildings bounce back and others await those major repairs, there is no comprehensive accounting of every building in the Seaport and Financial District
that remains shuttered this week. But a visual survey by the Trib on Nov. 13 found that from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Battery, in a nearly one-mile stretch east of Pearl Street, almost every building and business is closed, including numerous high-rise office buildings.

“Stay strong,” read a sign in the window of Stella Manhattan Bistro at 213 Front Street, on a block where every building is closed between Beekman and Peck Slip.

“We are open but upstairs,” said a note on the window of Pasanella and Sons Vinters, a wine shop at 115 South Street where nearly all of its neighbors within a three block radius are shut down. The owners provided a cell phone number for customers to call so they could be let in.

A few tourists wandered down Fulton Street to snap photos of boarded up storefronts along historic Schermerhorn Row, but the area was otherwise deserted and quiet. Security guards were stationed behind barricades at Pier 17, allowing only shopping mall tenants past.

Only one high-rise office building east of Water Street appeared open last Friday—and that building was running on a generator. Still-shuttered buildings two weeks after the storm include: 1 New York Plaza, a 50-story skyscraper; 55 Water Street, a 53-story building that is home to Standard and Poor’s; 175 Water Street, the 30-story home of AIG; 1 Wall Street Plaza, a 40-story skyscraper at 80 Pine Street; and 7 Hanover Square, a 26-story office building home to Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.

Estimates for when those office buildings will reopen vary wildly. Silverstein Properties’ building at 120 Wall Street is expected to reopen by the end of the week, said spokesman Dara McQuillan. Tenants at 4 New York Plaza—home of the NY Daily News and the American Civil Liberties Union—could be out of their offices for up to a year.

For 14 blocks, streets west of South Street remain clogged with Con Edison trucks and recovery vehicles. Workers in full body suits and masks haul out debris from buildings, generators hum, large pumping systems suck water out of basements and onto the street. Multiple buildings have reportedly had heating oil spill and mix with the flood waters in the basement. Near some buildings, the smell of mildew and gasoline is overpowering.

The South Street Seaport Museum suffered extensive damage to its mechanical systems and remains closed for an indefinite period. And Elana Hart, manager of Education and Public Programs at the New York City Police Museum on Old Slip, said she cannot estimate when repairs to the building’s electrical and heating equipment will allow the museum to reopen, though its archives, she said, were not damaged. The Fraunces Tavern Museum on Pearl Street is also closed, and so far without a reopening date.

Part of the uncertainty over when buildings can reopen lies with the difficulty in obtaining replacement parts, said a source at the Resnick Organization, owners of the 34-story 1 Seaport Plaza office building.

“The big problem down here is that there are so many buildings in need of repair and the parts that they need to repair are very scarce and we don't know when we can get them,” said a source familiar with the Resnick Organization’s struggles to reopen 1 Seaport Plaza/199 Water Street. “If it was just one isolated building I'm sure things would get fixed very quickly.”

In many instances, displaced residents say their management companies have been slow to offer answers or solutions.

Residents at 90 Washington St. complain that it took more than 10 days before they were even told that they would receive a rent rebate for days when they were displaced. The building is expected to reopen to tenants later this week, though building management is not offering an exact date.

“[The statement] came way too late—almost offensively late,” said 90 Washington tenant Natan Edelsburg. “We are a little horrified about how terrible the communications have been.”

The Moinian Group—which owns 90 Washington Street and other Downtown buildings affected by the storm did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“My office has been trying to pressure management companies to not only expedite their repairs, but also to give residents answers to basic questions,” Councilwoman Margaret Chin said in a statement to to the Trib.

Chin said she is urging management offices to “do the right thing” and provide tenants with information about mail, the security of their belongings and swift assurance that they will receive a rent credit for days when they are unable to occupy their apartment. 

But in a tough real estate market—and with their furnishings stuck in shuttered apartments—a rent rebate isn’t enough, several tenants of 2 Gold said.

“You can get out of your lease right now, but that's not really a solution,” said one tenant, who did not want to give his name. “Finding a new apartment when all your stuff is in an old apartment and you can't get it out doesn’t work.”

There’s also limited availability right now for comparably priced short-term rentals, residents said. Sublet sites like Craigslist and Airbnb are full of people price gouging. Many realtors expect a broker’s fee for the new apartment in addition to a security deposit.

“At this point you’re like, ‘well what do you do?’” Mendenhall said.

Mendenhall said she may have to move out of the city for a few months if she can’t find short-term housing soon. But that would only be a temporary problem. The hardest thing, she said, is knowing that beloved neighborhood institutions might not return.

“I love the Financial District, I love our neighborhood, ” she said, fighting back tears.  “All the small businesses are closed down. We go to them all the time. It’s like we live and breathe our neighborhood. And I just feel like it’s been taken away from us. There is nothing we could have done to prepare.”