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NYC's South Street Seaport looks for revival

Associated Press Published: April 26, 2014 0

NEW YORK (AP) — Bob Dylan's "Shelter from the Storm" wailed from the speakers Saturday before a ceremony at the South Street Seaport — a fitting theme for a Manhattan landmark in search of a revival after Superstorm Sandy.

The financially troubled South Street Seaport Museum was commemorating the reopening of its fleet of century-old vessels for tours and exhibitions with a daylong festival that harked back to the area's early 1800s.

Hundreds of people strolled along the pier and cobblestone streets of the 12-block historic district. They toured the ships, got firsthand lessons in woodcarving and old-style printing and learned about the seaport's place as the "front door of the United States of America."

"Were it not for New York's deep-water harbor and the trade that came through South Street, none of what we know as New York or the U.S. would exist in the way it does today," Jonathan Boulware, the interim president of the nonprofit museum, said.

Superstorm Sandy caused an estimated $22 million in damage to the museum. The October 2012 storm flooded nearby businesses, destroyed key infrastructure and closed the museum's main building on Fulton Street for months. Mounting debts compelled a city takeover last July.

Many storefronts in the surrounding neighborhood of restored brick buildings are still shuttered. A developer, the Howard Hughes Company, is planning to transform the area with a 50-story hotel and apartment tower on an adjacent pier where a mall once stood, a new marina, and new shops on nearby streets.

"The picture is considerably brighter than it was a year ago today," Boulware said. "A lot more is open, a lot more is developing. Sandy was definitely a tough blow but the Seaport district is rebounding, for sure."

Joanna Pisano, 17, toured the seaport with her mother, Janan, a few hours before their flight home to Coto de Caza, Calif. They were awed by its history and serenity.

"It's a lot different than the rest of New York," Joanna Pisano said. "It's a different experience."

Down on the museum's pier, woodcarver Sal Polisi worked on a new figurehead for the Wavertree, a 129-year-old ship that Boulware said will become the star of the seaport fleet after it undergoes a $5.2 million city-funded overhaul in Staten Island.

"This tells the story of what New York is about," he said of the ships and the Seaport Museum. "The commerce. The shipping industry. Even George Washington hung out around here!"

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