Fulton Street Pedestrian Mall

Fulton Street between Water Street and South Street

In the mid-1960s, Lower Manhattan became the focus of large-scale urban renewal efforts. The Seaport was one of several areas to be considered for the location of the World Trade Center, but this initiative was blocked by preservationists, strengthened by the 1965 enactment of the Landmarks Law,  as well as by officials in New Jersey who fought for a west side location for the new financial hub. In the late 1960s, the City Planning Commission initiated a renewal plan to transform the neighborhood into a tourist-friendly area, designating the South Street Seaport Museum as the sponsor and developer of the 12-block renewal zone. The transformation of the district into a thriving community of offices, retail spaces and restaurants was centered around key attractions: the South Street Seaport Museum, Fulton Market and Pier 17. The backbone of this vital place would be Fulton Street, one of the earliest closed pedestrian streets in the city.

Plagued by inadequate funding and a citywide recession in the 1970s, the Museum leased Pier 17 and the Fulton Market to the Rouse Company, a large-scale commercial developer, in 1981. The transaction was funneled through the South Street Seaport Corporation, formed that same year as a Museum subsidiary to manage its leases. Rouse constructed the new Fulton Market Building in 1983 (site # 4) and Pier 17 in 1985 (site # 7) in the spirit of the “festival marketplace” concept, a radical idea that European-style shopping markets could reinvigorate dilapidated downtowns. Their plans also included the restoration of Schermerhorn Row (site # 2) and the construction of the Bogardus Building (site #3), both in 1983. Aside from a brief surge when the projects were completed, the long-term result did not attract the expected tourism, and the Museum has suffered from persistent financial and managerial woes over the years. Further bad luck came in the form of damage sustained during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Today, the owner of the Seaport lease is Dallas-based developer, the Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC). (The Rouse Company purchased HHC in 1996. In 2004, General Growth purchased the Rouse Company. In 2010, General Growth filed for bankruptcy. As part of the bankruptcy proceedings, HHC took over the Seaport lease.) In 2013, HHC was granted a lease from the New York City Economic Development Corporation to develop or renovate portions of the Seaport, though the area remains city-owned. The showpiece of the plan is the redevelopment of Pier 17 and the reconstruction of the Tin Building (site # 5), but also includes options on parcels in the Museum Block along Water Street and Schermerhorn Row. HHC’s plans for the New Market Building site (site # 6) are uncertain, but could include the construction of a mixed use, large-scale development.