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Chelsea Market Expansion Plans Panned by Locals

By DNAinfo Staff on March 22, 2011 7:07am

By Elizabeth Ladzinski

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

CHELSEA — Preliminary plans unveiled Monday to expand Chelsea Market upward to include additional office space and a boutique hotel were severely scrutinized by community members, leaving some worried that Chelsea residents would receive no community benefit from the mammoth project.

Jamestown Properties, which recently acquired Chelsea Market, wants to add 240,000 square feet of office space above a section of the market overlooking 10th Avenue, as well as a 90,000 square-foot boutique hotel to the Ninth Avenue end, the group announced at a Community Board 4 Preservation & Planning Meeting on Monday night.

The middle section of the block-long building at 15th Street would remain at its current height, they said.

The front of Chelsea Market. Owner, Jamestown Properties, wants to add over 300,000 square feet of office and hotel space to the top of the market.
The front of Chelsea Market. Owner, Jamestown Properties, wants to add over 300,000 square feet of office and hotel space to the top of the market.
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But those present at the meeting say the developer has done little to offer the community anything in return, and expressed fears that they may be trying to convert the building entirely into expensive office space, driving out the food kiosks and bakeries among their current tenants.

"I find nothing being offered to the community in this process, and that worries me," said Walter Mankoff, a member of CB4, whose sentiment was mirrored by attendees at the crowded meeting.

The expansion can only take place if Chelsea Market is added to the Special West Chelsea District (SWCD), which oversees the restoration and reuse of the High Line — a portion of which runs through the Market. It would also have to be granted a special building height "bonus," which is allowed for buildings that are part of the SWCD.

Under the rules, which are administered by the Department of City Planning, the project would have to clear a series of hurdles in order to be approved. They would include making a contribution to the High Line, city documents show.

City documents show developers would have to pay $50 per square foot of developed space, or an estimated $16 million, the developers said.

They would also be responsible for coming up with an amenity package for the High Line, which would include building toilets, a 5,000 square foot mezzanine space, and a freight elevator to access 1,500 square feet of storage space in the market's basement.

Preliminary renderings revealed at the meeting — photos of which were obtained by DNAinfo from David Holowka at ArchiTakes, an architecture blog — showed that the planned office building overlooking 10th Avenue would look like a glass box, with a few "punched-in" openings offering views of the High Line. Possible finishes could be sandstone or beige brick. 

The hotel building overlooking Ninth Avenue, above Buddakan restaurant, would cater to business travelers and include a rooftop "dining experience," developers said.

The firm stressed that the look of the buildings would most likely change, as the designs are still in early stages, but that they planned to include similar design elements and color palates of nearby buildings.

It was greeted with strong criticism from some in the audience, where many people wore pins that said "Save Chelsea Market."

"I think the building you're putting on top of Chelsea Market is ugly," said Robert Trentlyon, a member of CB4, whose sentiment was applauded by many in attendance.

The inclusion of the High Line in plans for the Market's expansion has left many community members feeling uneasy, and led some to believe that Jamestown has not been transparent in its dealings with both the Market and the High Line.

"I sort of resent that the High Line is being brought into this and used against us," said Corey Johnson, 1st Vice Chair for CB4.

Some were also worried that the plan is a plot to eventually turn the building entirely into high-end office space, changing the character of the building and potentially driving out the 33 ground-floor tenants, which are primarily composed of food kiosks and restaurants such as Amy's Bread and Lobster Place.

However, Jamestown responded by saying that many of the upstairs tenants, who make up 90 percent of the rental property, are already high-tech media and production companies like Google and the Food Network, and adding more office space would only maintain the "high-tech commercial corridor" along West 15th Street, from Eighth Avenue to the West Side Highway, perhaps referring to the nearby property they recently sold to Google at 111 Eighth Ave.

Others raised concerns that a new hotel would increase traffic to the Meatpacking district, which is already home to hotels including the Standard, Maritime, Gansevoort, and soon-to-open Dream Downtown hotels, without adding any benefit to Chelsea residents.

The application for development will have go before the City Planning Commission for approval.