Real Christmas Tree Too Dangerous for South Street Seaport, Manager Says

By Julie Shapiro on December 20, 2011 5:37pm 

SOUTH STREET SEAPORT — The South Street Seaport decided to use a fake Christmas tree for the first time in three decades this year after last year's toppling of its real tree sparked serious safety concerns, the Seaport's manager said.

A gust of wind snapped the Seaport's 40-foot Norway spruce in 2010, sending it crashing down onto Fulton Street.

No one was hurt in the incident, but the near-miss convinced the Seaport's management to switch to a fake, but structurally sound, tree this year.

"The first and foremost reason we did this is for public safety," Michael Piazzola, general manager of the South Street Seaport, explained at a meeting of Community Board 1's Seaport/Civic Center Committee Monday night.

"We don't want anyone to get hit … with a flying tree."

Piazzola, who works for Seaport owner Howard Hughes Corp., said he tried to find a safe way of bringing a real tree to the Seaport, and he even spoke to engineers about how to secure it, but experts told him they could not guarantee that any tree would withstand a storm.

"They're made by nature," Piazzola said, so each one has a different resistance to wind.

Despite the well-intentioned choice, several residents have raised concerns about the fake tree.

"To be honest with you, it's ugly," said John Fratta, chairman of the Seaport/Civic Center Committee.

The board of directors at the residential complex Southbridge Towers also opposed the tree change and voted to send a letter of complaint to CB1, board chairman Wally Dimson said.

The Rockefeller Center tree stays standing because it is anchored to the surrounding buildings, but that wasn't an option in the Seaport, where the buildings have a variety of owners and many of the facades are landmarked, Piazzola said. 

"The only real way would be to essentially put the tree under glass and put it in a test tube," Piazzola said.

"We all love natural trees. This is a compromise."

Some board members also complained about a kitschy holiday market featuring scarves and cell phone covers that popped up on Fulton Street this year.

Workers struggle in the heavy winds to secure the tree after it fell in the Seaport in December 2010.
Workers struggle in the heavy winds to secure the tree after it fell in the Seaport in December 2010.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

Piazzola said the idea behind the market was to increase foot traffic on Fulton Street, partly to draw attention to the South Street Seaport Museum.

Next year, the market will have better tenants, including artists displaying holiday-themed wares, Piazzola said.

During a lengthy discussion of the fake Christmas tree, several people said they liked this year's fake one just fine.

"There are so many more important things," said Una Perkins, a CB1 member.

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