Streams

Board Gets Stood Up By Seaport Museum Officials

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The president and chairman of the Seaport Museum New York opted out of attending a meeting on the maritime museum's future at the last-minute Tuesday night, drawing the ire of community members who felt they were stood up by the officials for the second time in as many months.  

An hour into the meeting in Lower Manhattan, the Manhattan's Community Board 1 Seaport/Civic Center Committee received a letter from the museum's president and CEO, Mary Ellen Pelzer, saying she and chairman Frank Sciame would not be attending.

"We regret that we will be unable to attend this meeting," the letter read. "Our conversations with the city about the museum's future are ongoing. As we are still actively working to resolve various fiscal issues and determine the best strategy for a smooth transition to the new leadership, a presentation by the museum would be premature."

Pelzer's letter said the museum would provide the Board with a "complete update" at a later time: "Please be assured that we are working to put the museum on a better course. Our objective is for the museum to continue to serve as a valuable cultural, historic and education resource for New Yorkers and visitors and visitors."

The Seaport Museum's operations were dealt a devastating blow this spring when 21 board trustees resigned and the cash-strapped museum laid off half its staff. Sciame loaned the museum millions to stay afloat after it appealed to the city for help.

Pelzer and Sciame told Community Board 1 they would present an update on the museum's future at the June Meeting. So members of the Save Our Seaport coalition were frustrated that the museum had — for the second month in a row — given the board meeting a pass. 

"As long as the negotiations are going on with the people who let the museum decline, how can anybody expect that they'll be a positive result?" said Michael Yamin, a volunteer at the museum for 15 years who spoke at the meeting.

Save Our Seaport members have also opposed the museum's current plan to seek maritime centers to take on its vessels.

Richard Dorfman, the master of the museum's schooner the Pioneer until he was laid off in February, said the museum was losing income while three ships — the Pioneer, the W.O. Decker and the Lettie G. Howard — were sitting idle.

"They're sitting at the dock," said Dorfman. "The Pioneer only last season was carrying school kids and charters and public sails. With a certain amount of money invested in finishing the winter maintenance and staffing the boat properly, making sure the Coast Guard required inspections are done, it could be operating right now."

On Tuesday, the Board amended its existing Seaport Museum resolution to include the following terms:

  • The city should consider whether or not the three docked vessels could generate income
  • The city should find out if the vessels are deteriorating at the docks while not in use
  • The city should determine whether the vessels are a danger to the public
  • The museum's assets not be sold
  • The city, the museum and the mayor's office should appear at the Board's July meeting
  • There should be transparency and regular updates to the community about the future of the museum.

The next meeting is on July 19.

UPDATE: Although the next Community Board Seaport/Civic Center meeting will be held on Tuesday, the Seaport Museum's future is not currently on the agenda.

More than 100 members of the
Abbie Fentress Swanson/WNYC
More than 100 members of the "Save Our Seaport" coalition turned up at Tuesday's Community Board 1 meeting, hoping to hear the museum's chairman, Frank Sciame, talk about the future of the museum.
Although the Seaport Museum sent a letter to the Board postponing their appearance at the Community Board meeting, members of the public posed questions.
Abbie Fentress Swanson/WNYC
Although the Seaport Museum sent a letter to the Board postponing their appearance at the Community Board meeting, members of the public posed questions.
Before he was laid off, Richard Dorfman was the master of the Pioneer, one of the museum's ships. He wants to get the vessels back in the water.
Abbie Fentress Swanson/WNYC
Before he was laid off, Richard Dorfman was the master of the Pioneer, one of the museum's ships. He wants to get the vessels back in the water.
At the end of the meeting, the Board revised its resolution to ask for more from the Seaport Museum.
Abbie Fentress Swanson/WNYC
At the end of the meeting, the Board revised its resolution to ask for more from the Seaport Museum.

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