By Albert Samaha
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Portions of this article have been updated.
Wedged between the Brooklyn Bridge and the financial district, South Street Seaport is near the top of most visitors' to see list. Like other tourist destinations in the city, people actually live amid the throngs of sightseers, shoppers, and (in this case) fishmongers. "It's like being in a tourist attraction all the time," says Sally (who chose not to use her real name) with a weary if-you-only-knew tone to her voice. Four years into her second stint in the neighborhoodher first lasted 13 yearsSally does acknowledge that it's nice that there are now stores, bars not filled with fishermen, and restaurants, but not all change has been for the better: "Now [developers] can do anything in the downtown area in the name of the WTC. Anything to bring people and business to the area is okay."
There's no way that the quaint 18th- and 19th-century buildings in the seaport village neighborhood will fall to the wrecking ball. The facades remain intact and the insides are renovated. Much of the work is being done for luxury housing and upscale retail, although there are plenty of storefronts still empty. Conspiracy theorists believe this ongoing mall-ification likely hastened the decamping of the Fulton Fish Market, which is slated to move to Hunts Point in December. The official reason is that a recent law makes it illegal to sell meats in the open air.
Thanks to mixed-use buildings that are only three or four stories tall, the neighborhood isn't shrouded in the shadows of skyscrapers and, once you get off Fulton Street and away from the mall, the neighborhood can be quite relaxing. "I like the quiet at night," says Luciana Curtis, a three-year resident out walking her dog. "I'm not from New York City, so this feels comfortable for me."
Boundaries: Fletcher Street to the south, the Brooklyn Bridge to the north, the East River to the east, and Pearl and Water streets to the west.
Transportation: Being so close to the financial district means there's a myriad of choices nearby. It's a five-minute walk up Fulton or John streets to the Fulton StreetBroadwayNassau Street station hub. Here you can catch the 2 and 3; the 4 and 5; the A and C; or the J, M, and Z lines. The M15 bus is pretty slick too, passing through the neighborhood on Water and Pearl streets as it heads north, eventually continuing up Second Avenue.
Main Drags: East of the subway stations, Fulton Street is the de facto entrance to the neighborhood's historic district. It's blocked off to vehicles and has the easy to spot Titanic Memorial mini-lighthouse as a handy landmark.
Average Price to Rent: It's steep if you want to be in the heart of the area. As a general rule, gut renovations done in the early '90s are the most reasonably priced. Overall, a studio rents for $1,450 to $2,000; a one-bedroom from $1,950 to $2,700; a two-bedroom from $2,800 to $4,000; a three-bedroom from $4,600 and up. There are alternatives on the edges, such as the South Bridge Residential Tower, which is a Mitchell-Lama middle-income tower located across Water and Pearl streets.
Average Price to Buy: According to Citi-Habitats' Brian Edwards, who's worked in the area for several years in a variety of real estate capacities, the availability of places is extremely limited, but a number of newly renovated buildings along Front Street will come on the market in December. Currently, studios are virtually nonexistent in the neighborhood. One-bedrooms go for between $400,000 and $500,000. Two-bedrooms can be anywhere between $600,000 and $700,000. A three-bedroom's asking price is upwards of $1 million. Penthouses and townhouses sell for over $2 million.
Landmarks: The Fulton Fish Market is a destination for local foodies. Fishmongers and restaurateurs do business (that's 150 million pounds of seafood annually!) in the pre-dawn and morning hours, April through October. This explains the lingering smell of fish that still permeates the area. Typically you have to buy a minimum quantity, but as the morning wears on sellers tend to become more agreeable to smaller sales.
Museums: The South Street Seaport Museum (open Friday to Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., from November 1-March 31 and Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., April 1-October 31) focuses on the history of New York City as a port, typically presenting nautical-themed exhibits of artifacts, paintings, and writings. The museum's branches include the Port Life Gallery (209 Water Street), the Seaman's Church Institute (241 Water Street), the Walter Lord Gallery (209 Water Street), the A.A. Lowe Gallery (167171 John Street), and the recently opened Schermerhorn Row (the entire block along Fulton between Front and South streets). The best is Melville Gallery (213 Water Street), which offers readings and musical performances appropriate to the museum as well as exhibits.The Melville Library (213 Water Street) is an active research facility. Tickets, which provide admission to all the ships and museums, can be purchased for $8 at 12 Fulton Street or the Pier 16 Visitor Center.
The Ships: With masts 170 feet high and a metal hull 377 feet long, the Peking is the largest of the ships permanently moored at the dock. Of the eight ships, the Lettie G. Howard, the W.O. Decker, and the Pioneer are used for classes and training. They can also be chartered. The Peking, the Wavetree, and the Ambrose are permanently moored.