Land Ho! South Street Seaport Museum Reopening Comes Into View

The Museum's lobby after Sandy. (South Street Seaport Museum)

The Museum’s lobby after Sandy. (South Street Seaport Museum)

When Hurricane Sandy’s flood waters receded from Lower Manhattan, the sense of relief was short-lived for the businesses, residents and non-profits who returned to find their buildings waterlogged and severely damaged. The South Street Seaport Museum, with an estimated $22 million in damage, was among the more tragically doused.

That all the Museum’s historic boats and exhibits escaped basically unscathed was a consolation, certainly, but the Museum could hardly show them to anyone without heat, electricity, elevators or escalators.

Now, with the help of generators providing heat and electricity, the Museum is poised to re-open this Friday, December 14—in time to take advantage of at least some of the holiday tourist traffic. The Museum is also debuting two new exhibits: A Fisherman’s Dream: Folk Art by Mario Sanchez and Street Shots NYC.

Visitors will need to take the stairs and accept a space that is not perfectly climate controlled, with heat blown in from generators on the sidewalk, the Museum warned. But repairing and replacing the heating, electrical, elevator and escalator systems, as well as the lobby, cafe and gift shop, could easily take several more months.

Moreover, the building would miss out entirely on the holiday rush, when visitors flock to the city and parents seek activities for their out-of-school children.

The Museum told The Observer that it has raised several hundred thousand dollars for repair work. Its insurance policy only covers $500,000 worth of damage and its landlord, the Economic Development Corp., has agreed to cover repairs to the sprinklers and electrical panels. Which leaves a lot of funds left to be raised.

The costs of storm repair are particularly burdensome as the Museum was not on financial terra firma before Hurricane Sandy hit. Closed in early 2011 because of financial issues, it reopened under the management of the Museum of the City of New York in January of this year—giving the institution less than a year of operation under the new arrangement. Still, while the museum may have to wait some time before things are back to normal, at least on thing is certain: the renewed interest not only in New York’s maritime history, but also in its future.

kvelsey@observer.com