On a Cloudy Day at the Rebranded Seaport

The South Street Seaport has been made over a few times in the past few years, especially following Hurricane Sandy in late October of 2012. The historic seaport near the tip of Lower Manhattan on the East River took on massive amounts of water during the storm, leaving significant damage in its wake. In the years following the flood, remnants of the high water line that signified the extent of the flooding could be seen on many buildings and sign posts, but now it’s hard to find them.

Fulton Street at the South Street Seaport, now the Seaport District NYC

A visit to the Seaport reveals new efforts in re-branding the area and the highly visible corporate sponsorship underlying the financing. Shops, restaurants, and attractions are vigorously marketed as part of a whole package. It’s not the South Street Seaport anymore; it’s the Seaport District NYC. The tone is more upscale than past iterations. A New York outpost of the art-inspired Italian retailer 10 Corso Como opened this past week, filling a vast space at Fulton Market Building with artist-licensed gifts and its own signature black-and-white and circle-and-dot designs.

The Garden Bar, 19 Fulton Street, is open daily from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Compared to large retail corridors around the city where retail blight has become the sad new normal, the Seaport District looks relatively healthy in terms of open storefronts and plans for future tenants. Under the direction of the developer, the Dallas-based Howard Hughes Corporation, the revisioned seaport has taken on a coherent direction and branding. Nearby high-rise luxury buildings, either in progress or in planning stages, increases the likelihood of an even fancier seaport in the future. 

On the Riverdeck at Pier 17

Pier 17 on the waterfront has entirely been rebuilt, giving high visibility to its founding corporate sponsors. For example, the wraparound deck on the northeast side isn’t just the Riverdeck; it’s the Heineken Riverdeck. The oversize display advertisements on the columns and on the high ceiling inside the mall dominate the experience of moving through the pier’s interior pedestrian areas. Such oversize displays are common now, in places such as the Fulton Transit Center and the rebuilt World Trade Center complexes, though Times Square still wins the prize in this category.

Pier 17 views of the East River ferry traffic

The Riverdeck at Pier 17 works well as a public space. On a cloudy Friday afternoon, many people were out on the deck for a variety of purposes, some just to take in views of the East River or to read a book. The wooden stools overlooking the river on the east side may be one of the best places in the city to catch up on homework outside. The upscale trend at Pier 17 will soon get reinforcements with planned openings of new restaurants from Jean-Georges, Malibu Farm, and the Momofuku Restaurant Group.

Two of South Street Seaport Museum's historic ships

Seafarers may find attractions of interest at the venerable South Street Seaport Museum on Schermerhorn Row, including a nearby waterfront visit to tour its collection of historic ships, and the Bowne Print Shops & Maritime Craft Center at 207-211 Water Street. The museum also offers seasonal sails into New York Harbor aboard the 1885 schooner Pioneer, a one-of-a-kind iron-hulled sloop.

Piers 17 and 16

Touring companies offering sails from the Seaport include Circle Line’s Statue of Liberty Express and Statue by Night, both departing from Pier 16, and several Hornblower dining and event cruises sailing from Pier 15.

Richard Haas, Peck Slip Arcade, 1978. (detail) Commissioned mural for ConEd’s South Street Seaport substation. 

If looking for an everyday place to eat or drink, good choices can still be found in the northern end of the district. Two personal favorites include Fresh Salt at 146 Beekman and Cowgirl SeaHorse at 259 Front St. These two establishments provide a comfortable and friendly seaside ambience, having both weathered the big storm.

Images by Sailing Off the Big Apple from September 7, 2018.

Seaport District NYC website 
South Street Seaport Museum website