The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #135797 Message #3098568
Posted By: EBarnacle
19-Feb-11 - 11:39 AM
Thread Name: The New York Chantey Sing redivivus
Subject: RE: The New York Chantey Sing redivivus
I've been asked why the Chantey Sing is not returning to South Street. The following article was in The New York Times yesterday:
Finances Could Sink Seaport Museum
Michael Nagle for The New York Times
The Seaport Museum New York, which faces severe financial problems, has furloughed half of its staff in the last three weeks.
By ROBIN POGREBIN
Published: February 18, 2011 (The New York Times)
Over the last three weeks seven of the 21 trustees resigned from the board, and on Monday the museum furloughed 32 employees — half of the staff. Future exhibitions have been put on hold, the museum has effectively eliminated its curatorial and development departments.
On Thursday Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, New York City Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate D. Levin and Frank J. Sciame, the Seaport Museum's chairman for the last four years, met at City Hall to discuss its future.
In an unusual move for a museum chairman, Mr. Sciame, a real estate developer whose company has projects near the seaport, has lent the museum $3 million since March to cover operating expenses like payroll. Depending on whom you ask, he is either saving the Seaport Museum or sealing its doom.
"There's no question that we are dealing with some significant hurdles," said Peter Gates, who remains on the board. "Frank has brought a truly remarkable level of energy, determination and judgment to the museum. These qualities combined with his great generosity have kept the museum going, and we are grateful to him."
"Frank Sciame is doing incalculable harm to the Seaport Museum," said one furloughed employee, who did not want to be identified because of fear of reprisal for speaking publicly. "He has refused overtures from the city to help stabilize the museum and has driven away trustees who resent his high-handed and confrontational manner. It's hard to kill a nonprofit, but Sciame is well on the way to accomplishing just that."
The museum — at 12 Fulton Street and formerly named the South Street Seaport Museum — explores the city's maritime history through artifacts and a fleet of 11 vessels, including historic ships and service boats. It has always been small, catering to tourists and to New York maritime buffs. In the wake of 9/11, it weathered particularly rough seas.
In 2004 it closed its library building and gave away its collection of two million artifacts excavated in Lower Manhattan. It also eliminated several major staff positions to reduce its budget by $1 million. In 2005 it offered its antique ships for adoption, asking New Yorkers to pay for maintenance of a favorite ship.
In 2008 it ran a deficit of $1 million and the following year had revenue of just $280,000 on a budget of $5.2 million. For 10 years the museum has been in arrears to the city's Economic Development Corporation for rent and utilities.
The situation has grown more urgent over the last year. Between March and December Mr. Sciame made a $1.5 million loan to the museum. In July Mary Pelzer, the museum's president and chief executive, asked the city for assistance, according to city officials; Mr. Sciame reiterated that request at the end of September.
In May the museum asked the city to buy back its lease on a lot at the corner of John and South Streets for $7 million. This would allow the museum to pay off $1.8 million in back rent and utility payments to the development corporation and would generate an additional $3.2 million, to be paid at the closing in 2012, according to the city.
Meanwhile, the museum sought a bank loan of $2.7 million against the city's option to buy back the lease, and the board in December authorized using up to $1.4 million of the loan to pay back Mr. Sciame. When the loan did not come through, Mr. Sciame said, he provided bridge loans, "to keep the museum operating."
"When the bank didn't loan against the option, I just basically became the bank," Mr. Sciame said.
The city also objected to funds being used to pay back loans from board members (others beside Mr. Sciame have lent the museum a total of $500,000) and said it would not allow the museum to borrow against the lease buy-back.
"It's a bad sign when board members start making loans to organizations," said a city official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the negotiations. "Their interest in repayment will trump their judgment about what's best for the organization."
In January the City Department of Cultural Affairs and individuals interested in the museum's future proposed that two new trustees join the board in leadership positions: Doug Kreeger, a business consultant who is married to the sister of the developer Douglas Durst, and Brendan Sexton, a consultant on environmental sustainability and a former sanitation commissioner. No action has been taken on the appointments of those two men.
After studying the museum's financial records, Mr. Kreeger and Mr. Sexton agreed to help secure a loan to the museum to cover some operating costs, with the understanding that the museum would undertake a major debt-reduction plan. Under that plan, board members would not have preferred status among the museum's creditors.
Some people involved with the museum suggest that Mr. Sciame resisted this assistance in part because Mr. Kreeger is affiliated with a competitor, the Durst Organization — though the two developers collaborated on Historic Front Street at the Seaport. But Mr. Sciame said this was not the source of his objections, but rather that Mr. Kreeger and Mr. Sexton "had some plans that I thought were not operable," adding that he could not "get into the particulars about it."
"We're considering different ways of running the museum," Mr. Sciame said. "There were some good ideas that Doug and Brendan had, and they're under discussion."
Three weeks ago trustees began resigning, with the most recent resignation on Wednesday.
For his part, Mr. Sciame — said he had simply tried to sustain the institution, whose travails he said were largely due to the recession.
"Like many cultural institutions, this is a tough time in terms of the economic downturn," he said. "But this museum has been here before."
Several of the trustees who resigned did not return calls seeking comment. Ms. Pelzer, who runs the museum and was formerly its general counsel, also did not return calls.
"We hope the museum will find a constructive solution," Commissioner Levin said.
Mr. Sciame said "it's always difficult" to lay people off, adding "We intend to hire them back."
He also said the board had established an austerity committee that is working to reduce costs and increase revenue. There have also been discussions about sharing space with another of the city's smaller museums or establishing an alliance with a larger institution, though no formal talks have been held.
As for his tenure, Mr. Sciame said he was open to passing the torch.
"We have a road map, and my intention is to have that road map implemented, either by myself or someone else," he added. "I'm not saying it has to be me.