As chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten readies to open an upscale dining hall at the former Fulton Fish Market, lower Manhattan neighbors are asking how it squares with past promises for a public market focused on local food vendors.
In 2013, then-City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and local Councilmember Margaret Chin announced a deal with the city Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and South Street Seaport operator Howard Hughes Corporation that would bring 10,000 square feet of market space to the Seaport’s then-vacant Tin Building, “that includes locally and regionally sourced food items that are sold by multiple vendors.”
On Wednesday, the Tribeca Citizen reported that the Tin Building by Jean-Georges will open for limited hours starting Aug. 4 — while Howard Hughes says to expect the 53,000-square-foot food hall to officially debut in the fall.
A Council press release also listed a separate commitment for a locavore market somewhere within the city-owned Seaport property to open no later than Oct. 1, 2014 — without specifying its size or location.
The idea was to keep a connection to the Seaport Historic District’s fresh food roots: The Tin Building housed the Fulton Fish Market from its opening in 1907 until the mid-2000s, before the fishmongers moved to the Bronx’s Hunts Point market.
But at a July 14 meeting, members of the Community Board 1 Land Use, Zoning and Economic Development Committee learned that the market operation has been shunted to a side street, and offered just 3,500 square feet.
Fulton Stall Market first set up shop in 2009 on prime Fulton Street, then relaunched in 2014 in partnership with Howard Hughes Under Howard Hughes, which leases Seaport real estate from the city. In recent years, the nonprofit market has operated out of a small storefront on South Street south of Fulton, while the Tin Building went through an elaborate restoration.
But instead of centering on local food purveyors as originally touted, that prime real estate will be claimed by the celebrity chef’s empire, “a never-before-seen culinary destination” featuring “two levels of immersive concepts, multiple restaurants, and a central market offering locally sourced seafood, meats, cheese, fresh produce and specialty items,” according to the Tin Building’s website.
Meanwhile, EDC offered the Fulton Stall Market a space less than one tenth the Tin Building’s size on out-of-the-way Beekman Street, according to Stephen Dima, president of the nonprofit Fulton Market Association, which runs the nonprofit market.
Dima told CB1 last week that the Fulton Stall Market needs more space and visibility — pointing to programs that include cooking demonstrations and a popular community-supported agriculture service. Over 125 local farmers and producers have sold their goods through the Fulton Stall Market, he said, as he told the board he wants a location of greater size “accessible from both ends to facilitate and generate public interest and foot traffic as a unique destination” and to “meet the food needs and preferences of the community.”
Dima told CB1 that he has submitted to EDC a proposal for 16 indoor market stalls “assuring the full product mix, stall areas to be designed in consultation with farmers and producers” that would enable them to prepare food and display products. His organization also seeks to maintain 15 stalls outdoors seasonally.
He asked the community board for its support to help fulfill “this promise that was made, to the Mayor’s Office, the City Council as well as EDC and Howard Hughes.”
EDC did not respond to questions from THE CITY about the market’s relocation plans.
Claire Holmes, a spokesperson for Howard Hughes Corporation, sent a statement to THE CITY asserting that the Jean-Georges Tin Building food hall satisfies its obligations.
“We have provided significant support for Fulton Stall Market, including substantial capital and operating funds, including rent-free indoor and outdoor space. We continue conversations with them and the City over possible new locations for the market,” she wrote.
A 2013 letter from Howard Hughes to Chin detailing the developer’s Seaport commitments shows that the pledge for a 10,000-square-foot market was dependent on the optional development of a more ambitious real estate project, involving a hotel, retail and apartments, at Tin Building and other sites.
That project never happened — though Howard Hughes did receive approval late last year for a residential, retail and community space tower on what is currently a parking lot on Water Street.
‘I’m Really Worried’
Community board members at the meeting responded with sympathy for Dima, who for years has produced Seaport cultural events and attractions that included the 4Knots music festival.
“I don’t think you’d have a member of CB1 who wouldn’t continue to show their support for the Fulton Stall Market,” said land use committee chair Patrick Kennell, who added: “We continue to be impressed with how hard you guys are fighting.”
Said board member Bob Schneck, urging a resolution in favor of the market’s future: “I’m just very concerned for the Fulton Stall Market.” He pointed to Philadelphia’s bustling and affordable Reading Terminal Market, adding: “I think New York needs such a thing.”
He added: “I’m really worried that the Fulton Stall Market really needs a lot of support right now, because it doesn’t get any from the developer.”
Jean-Georges’ press representative did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Quinn or Chin.
Dima told THE CITY that he’s prepared to press as far as he can to get the market the size and location of space he says it needs to thrive.
“We’re in a negotiation to see where this can go,” said Dima. “We are not ungrateful for the offer of 3,500 square feet, but we are concerned.”
The staff of local City Councilmember Christopher Marte, who took office earlier this year after Chin’s terms ended, has been talking to Howard Hughes to work out a healthier deal.
“We have been working very closely with the Fulton Stall Market to ensure that promises made in previous administrations are met,” said Marte in a statement to THE CITY. “The Fulton Stall Market represents the best of our City’s markets — with fresh ingredients sourced from New York farmers and brought to a community that otherwise has little fresh food access.”
He expressed optimism “that we can achieve a win for the Market and the community at large,” and vowed to break a pattern in which, he said, “our district is short-changed by development deals where developers get a free rein and the community never receives the benefit they were promised.”
Said Marte: “We won’t let this become another broken promise and look forward to working with all the stakeholders to create a new home for Fulton Stall Market.”