Where's the Beef?
At City Hall this morning, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Council member Margaret Chin announced that the contract for redevelopment of Pier 17 at the Seaport has been amended to include several provisions that were designed to address issues raised during the Zoning committee hearing last week. According to Quinn’s press announcement the agreement now requires that:
“Any proposal for a Mixed Use Project at the Tin Building must include a food market occupying at least 10,000 square feet of locally and regionally sourced food items that are sold by multiple vendors and is open to the public seven days a week.”
The announcement today demonstrates that collecting over 4000 signatures and turning out hundreds of concerned citizens (as happened last Thursday morning) does indeed get the attention of City Council. Today’s announcement could therefore be viewed as something of a victory – after all the Council did hear and understand the public cry for a public market on the site of the Fulton Fish market. Furthermore, with its requirements that the market include locally and regionally sourced food the Speaker’s announcement also shows the compelling vision of a regional market that has been carefully crafted by the New Amsterdam Market since it began in 2005 has been broadly accepted.
Unfortunately, while shamelessly trading on this vision, the Council’s action today does not actually protect or preserve the physical structures that form the historic legacy of the marketplace; nor does it recognize the value of New Amsterdam Market’s trailblazing efforts and visionary leadership in crafting and curating a truly regional marketplace.
In fact, the “concessions” wrung from the Howard Hughes Corporation can hardly be viewed as concessions at all. The Chelsea Market and Eataly already provide powerful proof of the commercial success that is possible with high-end food markets in Manhattan. Without clear requirements for public involvement in the design of the marketplace or selection of a market vendor, there is no way to ensure that the market that is eventually built will in any way do justice to the pioneering work of Robert LaValva and the intrepid entreprenuers who first began selling local food products in front of the Old Fulton Fish Market Buildings.
Market fans will also be disappointed in the 10,000 square foot allotment for the Tin Building Market – this is far less than would be required for the world-class market referenced by Speaker Quinn in her remarks. To provide a sense of what can be done with 10,000 square feet: Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia is close to 78,000 square feet, of which 40,000 is dedicated to vendors; while Seattle’s Pike Place Market is 7 acres in size and its indoor food markets alone are over 50,000 square feet. Eataly near Madison Square Park is 60,000 square feet. So, 10,000 feet is not much—it’s about the size of a drug store.
When questioned, Speaker Quinn indicated that some future land use review process will determine whether a food market will also be in store for the site of the second historic building – the New Market Building. She also indicated that the operator of the Tin Building food market will be selected at a later time and that if there is a public bidding process then the New Amsterdam Market could certainly apply.
Without more specific guarantees or requirements, today’s announcement is of a generic local food market to be built at some unknown future date is clearly too little. With the complete lack of transparency in the process we don’t know yet if it’s also too late. All of which leaves us asking City Council, who along with Mayor Bloomberg claim to be on the side of local food: “Where’s the beef?”