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With Pier 17 Still Closed After Sandy, Business Owners Frustrated

By Jeanmarie Evelly | November 30, 2012 10:46am | Updated on November 30, 2012 4:24pm

SOUTH STREET SEAPORT — It's been more than a month since Hurricane Sandy flooded the South Street Seaport, forcing dozens of stores and restaurants in the neighborhood to close their doors — though the mall at Pier 17 came through the storm seemingly unscathed.

Commercial tenants there say the lights are on and their phone lines work, and mall owners, the Howard Hughes Corporation, said in a statement that the building suffered no flooding or material damage.

Yet the mall remains closed as inspectors check the pier itself, management representatives said. Business owners say they're frustrated, missing out on a crucial period of holiday season revenue — one of the busiest times of the year for the Seaport.

"I had to cancel all of my Christmas parties. That's half a million [dollars] right there," said Ann Marie Delaney, whose family owns Harbour Lights restaurant, which has been there for 25 years. The eatery sustained no damage in the storm other than food that went bad when its power went out.

"We have a fully operational restaurant," Delaney said. "We could be up and running in 48 hours, if they let us."

Even before Hurricane Sandy struck, Pier 17 business owners' days were numbered. They're being forced out this summer to make way for a massive redevelopment plan that will gut the current space to build a more modern, all-glass structure filled with restaurants and high-end boutiques.

Some say they're worried Howard Hughes might not bother to re-open the mall at all, since tenants will have to vacate in just a few months anyway.

"I think the storm gives them the perfect excuse," said Joseph Demane, the owner of Simply Seafood, which opened in 1994 on the pier's third floor and has a lease until 2020.

"Everybody's out," he said. "So why let everybody back in just to get them back out again?"

At a Community Board 1 meeting on Tuesday, Chris Curry, Howard Hughes' vice president of development, insisted the company was working to get Pier 17 re-opened as quickly as possible.

"Right now we're having a post-event inspection," he said.

In a statement, the company said it should determine within the coming weeks "whether Pier 17 is structurally sound," noting that the building itself suffered no damage.

"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 reads.

Still, Demane said that even with that news, it might be too little, too late for business owners if the mall doesn't re-open until after the holidays.

"If you're not open within the next week or two, after New Years — January, February, March — are dead months for the Seaport," he said. "There's no reason to really reopen."

Tenants said they were told before the storm hit that they would have to leave the building at the end of the spring, and that construction of the new development was slated to start at the end of June. A spokesman for Howard Hughes said the redevelopment is going ahead as scheduled.

Tom Berton runs a sailboat tour company, Manhattan by Sail, which docks its boats at Pier 17. He said he's been asking the city, which set the June 30 start date, to delay construction until at least the fall so the neighborhood can make the most out of its tourist-packed summer months.

"Allow us all to have one more summer, at the very least," he said. 

Delaney said Harbour Lights has always had a good relationship with Howard Hughes and wanted to return as a tenant in the new development, which is slated to open in 2015.

She said they'd planned to make the most of their remaining time open before construction starts, but now with the mall still closed, she's uncertain.

"Why would they put money into reopening it if they're just going to close it again in May or June?" she said. "We wanted to stay until the end."