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Critics Pan Chelsea Market Expansion Study

By Mathew Katz | November 7, 2011 12:49pm
Jamestown Properties wants to build a large glass tower on top of Chelsea Market, seen here in an early rendering.
Jamestown Properties wants to build a large glass tower on top of Chelsea Market, seen here in an early rendering.
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David Holowka

CHELSEA — A new study claims that a massive expansion of Chelsea Market would bring approximately $1.6 billion in economic benefits to the city, but opponents question how much the study can be trusted.

Jamestown Properties, which owns the landmarked building at 75 Ninth Ave., commissioned a study of its proposed expansion plan, which would add a add a 250-office glass tower above a section of the market overlooking 10th Avenue, as well as a 12-story, 90,000 square-foot hotel on the Ninth Avenue side, over Buddakan restaurant.

The study, released last week, was carried out by consulting firm Appleseed, and estimates that the proposed expansion would increase the city's economic output by $1.35 billion a year and create or maintain more than 3,600 long-term jobs as well as more than 1,200 construction jobs, a $300 million value.

"Chelsea market, while best known for its ground-floor artisanal food retailers is also home to 20 companies, employing over 3,000 people in over one-million square feet on the upper floors," said Jamestown Managing Director Michael Phillips in a statement about the study.

"The need for additional space in Chelsea to capture the growth of the tech and media firms is well documented," the statement continued. "The growth of these sectors will indisputably have a positive impact on our economy; the report documents that impact."

Jamestown, which emphasized the impartiality of its study, said it envisions the expanded office building on top of the market as a hub to tech firms. The developer sold a nearby building to Google last year.

“­­­­­­The new office space created by the Chelsea Market expansion will help accommodate the continued growth of these industries which are among the highest-paid and most productive in New York City, making them vital to the future of the City’s economy,” Appleseed president Hugh O'Neill said in a statement.

Project opponents, however, say they have serious concerns about the study, as well as the fact that in order to carry out such an expansion, the owners of the landmarked building would have convince the city to rezone the entire block as part of the Special West Chelsea District.

The district was created to allow the construction and renovation of the High Line, but critics say the changes would make the residential area too commercial, and introduce changes to the historic building.

"I would take this report with a grain of salt," said Lesley Doyel, who helps run Save Chelsea, a neighborhood organization that's been leading the charge against the expansion. "They're paid to make this report. I don't think they can really say that they're neutral."

Others were more forceful in their criticism of the report, pointing out Appleseed's long list of developer clients. The company also serves several nonprofit organizations and universities.

"Appleseed executives are not authorities without financial conflicts of interests. They are hired solely by major developers," Stanley Bulbach, a resident of West 15th Street, wrote in an email.

"This is the oldest and most hackneyed trick in the books of 'economic development,'" he added.

For months, Jamestown and opponents have held seperate meetings with representatives of several prominent public officials, including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Both have yet to take a position on the issue. Jamestown hopes to convince those same officials that the expansion could turn the neighborhood into more of a high-tech powerhouse.

Save Chelsea members and other residents are afraid that Jamestown will use the report to get the zoning changes, then quickly develop and flip the property, like they did with the Google building.

"There's this notion that the only people that they're beholden to is their investors, not the community," said Doyel. "This is a mixed-used community, with commercial and residential, it's going to tip the balance here to the point of no return."

Save Chelsea will hold a community forum on the proposed expansion of the market at 7 p.m. on Nov. 10 at Holy Apostles Church, 296 9th Ave.