This week, the Museum of the City of New York announced they will pull out of their now 27-month (originally 18-month) project to put the South Street Seaport Museum back on its feet. Under the City Museum’s leadership, the Seaport Museum was finally emerging from its decades-long downswing, but that was before Superstorm Sandy hit in last October. Now, with $22 million worth of damage, the museum needs to find a financial backer or this historic Manhattan institution will fall into the hands of the New York attorney general.
The damage was severe. With no temperature control, the museum could not effectively preserve all the artworks on display at 12 Fulton Street in the late spring and summer heat and humidity. So, they had to close the location, which housed the majority of their galleries, leaving their main museum on indefinite hiatus.
Even restoring the museum to its pre-Sandy state will not suffice. Jerry Gallagher, the museum’s general manager, says that, in their flood-zone location, the museum needs to be prepared for future such incidents. The federal government is not eager to aid them, since, as FEMA told them, they are a “non-essential non-profit.”
Needless to say, the museum’s financial picture does not look promising despite having a balance operating budget in 2012. Through a series of one-time gifts, loans, and grants, the museum was able to stabilize itself for a short while. In December, the museum received a gift of half a million dollars anonymously, but even with that, another $100,000 gift, their $500,000 insurance policy, and other donations, the museum is a long way from being able to pay for the repairs.
On top of the sheer amount of money needed, nobody knows where to place financial responsibility for the museum. Their landlord, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (E.D.C.), despite claiming they are committed to the museum, has not undertaken the restoration. Though the museum has already collected part of its insurance policy, their Hartford Insurance Company wonders if their policy overlaps with E.D.C’s. Their community board, C.B.1, has tried to open up communication among all parties, but so far its efforts have failed.
Assessing this budget, Gallagher astutely told C.B.1 last March, “We have close to no winning cards in our hand. It’s a very dire situation that we’re faced with.”