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Sandy-Damaged Seaport Museum Galleries Close on Fulton St.

By Irene Plagianos on April 8, 2013 4:14pm 

SOUTH STREET SEAPORT —  The South Street Seaport Museum has shuttered its Sandy-damaged galleries, unable to bankroll the historic building's expensive temporary heat and power systems while permanent repairs to the building are made.

The exhibition space at 12 Fulton St. — which was inundated with corrosive flood waters that destroyed the escalators and elevators, along with heating, electrical and air-conditioning systems — was closed as of Sunday, the museum announced on its website.

The museum’s other location, Bowne & Co. Stationers, a recreation of a working 19th century printing shop at 209 Water St. — which also sustained hurricane damage — will remain open, according to the museum.

After Hurricane Sandy, the museum managed to reopen the Fulton Street galleries in late December with generator power but without elevator or escalator service. The museum's collections were spared from flooding because they were on the upper floors.

At the time, the museum launched a Sandy relief fund and said total permanent repairs would cost more than $22 million.

With the help of a $500,000 check from an anonymous donor, and other funds, the museum raised more than $800,000 as of January.

But museum officials soon learned that an infusion of cash that they were hoping for from FEMA would take years to arrive and that temporary repairs could preclude the museum from getting those funds.

“First, we were nicely told [by FEMA] that we were a non-essential non-profit, which dropped us to the bottom of lots of their lists," the museum's general manager, Jerry Gallagher told member of the City Council's Committee on Cultural Affairs on Feb. 28.

"We were told that those temporary repairs we contemplated would preclude future reimbursements for a full reinstallation of the systems, either in the basements or at some higher level."

“We are plucky and feisty, but we now feel powerless to remain open,” he added, asking the City Council and the Economic Development Corporation for help.

Without proper heat and humidity control in the building, especially in the approaching summer months, the collections — including rare ivory carvings, marine paintings and ship models — are in danger, Gallagher said, and may have to be moved if they aren’t protected.

It remains unclear when the Fulton Street galleries will reopen, but museum officials said they will focus on the Water Street space for now.

"The galleries within 12 Fulton will remain closed until the building's systems are replaced, and we do not have a timeframe for that," said a museum spokesman. "It is a complicated process because the building's systems need to be moved out of the basement, and they cannot be relocated upstairs without ruining the historic fabric of these narrow, early 19th century buildings."

The museum is still collecting donations for its relief fund.

The museum, which first opened in 1967 to celebrate the city's maritime history, has proven itself resilient in the past. After being forced to close for about a year because of financial troubles, the museum was able to relaunch under the management of the Museum of the City of New York.

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