Founder and First Seaport Museum President Calls for Resignations

Peter Stanford, a founder and first president of the South Street Seaport Museum has written a letter calling for the resignation of the museum’s current chairman, Frank J. Sciame,  and its president, Mary Pelzer.  The museum recently laid of most of its staff and is in severe financial trouble. See out previous post – New York’s Seaport Museum Struggles to Stay Afloat

From the New York Times Art Beats Blog:

Founding President of Seaport Museum Calls for Resignations

In a letter to Ms. Pelzer that he shared with The New York Times, the former president, Peter Stanford, said that the museum needed new leadership to survive. He wrote that Ms. Pelzer’s and Mr. Sciame’s credibility had been damaged by “concealment” of its financial problems, and that the “overall direction of the Seaport Museum has been neglectful of its principal physical asset,” its historic ships. Mr. Sciame, a real estate developer, has lent the museum $3 million in the last year to cover operating expenses. “Mr. Sciame and Ms. Pelzer are extremely surprised and deeply disappointed by these inaccurate comments,” said Adam Pockriss of Rubenstein Communications and a spokesman for the museum.

The Downtown Express also quotes Standford on the problems of the Museum:

Seaport Museum flounders, but hasn’t yet sunk

But neither donations nor loans will solve the museum’s long-term dilemmas, according to Peter Stanford, who co-founded the museum in 1967.

“No high-level shenanigans are going to work,” said Stanford. “It’s a matter of getting down to the basics.”

The museum, Stanford said, was a whopping success in its first few years of existence, with four active piers and a host of well-maintained operating vessels.

But in recent decades it has been plagued by mismanagement and misfortune. Things began to go downhill, according to Stanford, when Rouse Construction, a past owner of the Seaport, became incapable of “working the machine.” Many crucial educational programs offered on the waterfront were discontinued as a result.

Rouse eventually went bankrupt and defaulted on its obligations to the museum, according to Stanford; its successor, General Growth Properties, similarly filed Chapter 11 in 2009.

The trigger to the most recent setback, however, was not reacting quickly enough to the recession. “We should have laid off and tied up some of those boats,” said Stanford, “and let some of these [employees] go long before we did.”

Interesting perspective from John Doswell:

The museum going bankrupt wouldn’t necessarily signify its end, according to John Doswell, executive director of the Working Harbor Committee, which runs the tug boat rides to and from the W.O. Decker, one of the museum’s vessels.

“It’s not the worst thing in the world,” he said, pointing to the Intrepid Museum’s reemergence from Chapter 11 status in the mid-1980s.

This isn’t the first time the museum has been in financial turmoil. In 2004, it shuttered its library, laid off employees and relinquished its collection of cherished artifacts. In 2008, the institution fell into a one million dollar deficit, and, in 2009, it made only $280,000 in profits on a budget of more than $5 million, according to a recent New York Times article.

Thanks to Justin Reynolds for passing the articles along.


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3 Responses to Founder and First Seaport Museum President Calls for Resignations

  1. Pingback: New York’s Doomed Ships « tugster: a waterblog

  2. Dirk says:

    It would be a pity if N.Y. would loose the Seaport museum. I’ve been there in the eighties of the last century and one day would be back to visit together with my daughters.

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