SOUTH STREET SEAPORT — Help may finally be on the way for the Seaport Museum New York's historic ships.
After months of neglect and rumors that some of the crumbling boats would be sold, the new leaders of the Seaport Museum New York are requesting money from the city to restore the Ambrose, a beloved 1908 lightship, as well as money to hire a director of historic vessels, to oversee the museum's fleet.
The Museum of the City of New York — which is now running the Seaport Museum on an interim basis, after former Seaport Museum President Mary Pelzer stepped down — is also asking the city for money to renovate Pier 16, including the museum's ticket booth, to make it more inviting to visitors.
Community Board 1 passed a resolution Tuesday supporting the Seaport Museum's request for $1.475 million in funding from the Department of Cultural Affairs.
"The ships are at the forefront of everything we've got going on," Jerry Gallagher, the Seaport Museum's new manager, said at a Community Board 1 meeting last week.
Downtown residents and Seaport Museum advocates were glad to hear that the museum was refocusing on its original mission of telling the story of the South Street Seaport through historic vessels.
"I can't think of anything more immediately important," museum founder Peter Stanford said of the new management's plans.
"These are really vital priorities. They've got it right, right from the beginning."
Of the funds requested, $850,000 would go to the Ambrose, $500,000 would go to Pier 16, and $125,000 would go toward staffing for the driector of historic vessels, according to CB 1. B
Board members also agreed that the ships were the most important part of the Seaport.
"In order to make the museum viable, we need to put in the dollars to repair the ships," said John Fratta, chairman of CB 1's Seaport/Civic Center Committee. "Without the ships, Pier 17 and that area is nothing."
The Seaport Museum did not say how much money it is requesting. The Department of Cultural Affairs did not immediately return a call for comment.
The Seaport Museum has been closed since last February, when management laid off half the staff because of financial problems.
Since the Museum of the City of New York took over in September, director Susan Henshaw Jones has reopened the museum's Bowne & Co. Stationers historic printing shop, started reorganizing the museum's archives, and is developing new exhibits and educational programs.
Stanford said he was particularly pleased to hear that the museum was prioritizing the restoration of the Ambrose, because it was the first historic boat he brought to the South Street Seaport when the museum launched more than 40 years ago, and volunteers worked hard back then to repair it.
The Ambrose served as a floating lighthouse for the U.S. Coast Guard, helping larger ships safely make their way from the Atlantic Ocean into New York Harbor. Stanford said the small red boat, with its curved hull, is a favorite among young Seaport visitors.
"She's really quite an exciting vessel," Stanford said. "I have always had a warm spot in my heart for her."
In recent years, though, the Ambrose has not been maintained, Stanford noted. The decks leak, which means there is water damage to the ship's interior, and its hull may be compromised as well, he said.
"There's a lot of catching up to be done," Stanford said.