Uncertainty Over Storm Damage at Pier 17 Mall Leaves Shops in Holiday Limbo

The Pier 17 Mall has been closed to the public since Hurricane Sandy struck. Jessica Terrell/Tribeca Trib

Did Hurricane Sandy deliver an early death sentence for the South Street Seaport’s gable-roofed Pier 17 mall?

That’s a question frantic shopkeepers and restaurateurs are asking this week, as they enter the holiday season with no idea of when business might be able to resume at the popular tourist destination.

“We just have no answers about when or if we are going to reopen,” said Ann Marie Delaney, whose father opened up Harbor Lights restaurant in the mall in 1987. “We are just kind of now in this state of limbo.”

The mall—which was already slated to close next spring to make way for a new glass-walled shopping structure—did not suffer any apparent interior flooding or damage, according to the mall’s owner, Howard Hughes Corp. But Hughes Corp says it is still trying to determine if there has been any structural damage to the pier.

“Divers are in the water checking on the piles,” Hughes Corp. Executive Christopher Curry told the Trib on Tuesday. “As soon as it is done we will make the report conclusions known to everyone.”

Curry told the Community Board at its Tuesday meeting that he could not comment on whether the company might keep the mall closed and begin its rebuilding early until the damage assessment was completed.

Those inspections will be completed “in the coming weeks,” a Hughes Corp. spokesman said in a follow-up statement on Wednesday. “We may be in a position to reopen Pier 17 before the end of the year and well in advance of the redevelopment, if it is determined that it is structurally sound,” the statement said.

In the meantime, Pier 17 tenants said that—with little information given to them from Hughes Corp.—they are starting to question if the mall will indeed reopen before the two-year rebuilding project begins.

“Three weeks ago [Howard Hughes Corp.] told me we were going to reopen in three weeks and I believed them,” said Michael Nicolini, who owns two gift shops, Stone Flower, inside the mall. “At this point I believe that we are not going to be able to reopen.”

Tenants said that electricity, water and phone service are all in working order at their shops, and they are able reopen as soon as the mall opens its doors. But if that doesn’t happen soon, there may not be a point, Nicolini said.

“There is no business in January, February, March,” Nicolini said. “So what is the point of them reopening [after Christmas] to close everything down in April?”

Joseph Demane, owner of Simply Seafood in Pier 17, told Community Board 1 on Tuesday that he is concerned the storm has become an excuse for Hughes Corp. to get out tenants with long-term leases before the rebuilding begins. Hughes Corp. has stated before that it plans to reopen with a different range of shops aimed at appealing to New Yorkers as well as tourists.

“I feel that they are just not opening the building so they have everybody out and they are not going to let people back in the building,” said Demaine, noting that he has a lease that runs through 2020.

Several small businesses, including Manhattan by Sail, which provides harbor cruises, have been petitioning (before and after the storm) for the mall to remain open through next summer in order to get one more full season of business before it closes for the two-year rebuilding project.

But the busiest time of year for some businesses is December. Delaney, of Harbor Lights, whose family also owns three other eateries in the mall, said she has been forced to cancel most of her Christmas party reservations—a loss of nearly $500,000 worth of  business. She has roughly 50 employees who are filing for unemployment and looking for new jobs, Delaney said.

“They have rent to pay, they have families to feed,” Delaney said. “It’s so heartbreaking. They were banking on Christmas.”

The city’s Economic Development Corporation, which leases the Seaport land to Howard Hughes, did not respond to a request for comment.