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Chelsea Market Agreement Leaves Food Concourse at Risk, Opponents Say

By Mathew Katz | January 25, 2013 7:44am

CHELSEA — Chelsea Market's landlord has no obligation to keep the historic building's food concourse after its expansion despite claims by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn that it would be protected.

In an Oct. 25 statement released after the City Council approved a re-zoning plan that would allow developer Jamestown Properties to expand the market by roughly 300,000 square feet, Quinn said the area would remain protected and predominantly food-related, despite concerns it could be taken over by chain stores.

"In the original plan, there were no restrictions on what the developer could do to the unique and cherished ground-floor retail space dominated by food vendors," Quinn said in the statement.

"The Council’s action permanently protects 75 percent of the current total interior ground-floor concourse retail space for food-related uses."

But a legally-binding agreement signed on that same day by the council's Land Use Committee provides much less specific restrictions, preserving less than two-thirds of the ground floor for retail use with no specific language about food at all. 

"Not less than 60 percent of length of the frontages of such passageway shall be occupied by retail uses, and in addition may be occupied by service, wholesale, production and event space," the agreement states. 

The same binding agreement does give stringent protections to the building's facade, a hard-fought concession from the developer.

In a letter to Quinn's office provided to DNAinfo.com New York, longtime opponents of the expansion pointed to the lack of any legally enforceable way to keep the concourse food related.

"If Jamestown or a successor decided to close down 40 percent of the concourse to retail use and fill the remaining 60 percent with chain clothing stores or other non-food related retail uses, there would be no recourse to prevent them from doing so, and no rescission of the lucrative upzoning granted to them," the letter said.

The letter was signed by members of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations, Save Chelsea and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

According to Justin Goodman, a spokesman for the City Council, the agreement reached between Jamestown and Quinn did call for 75 percent of the space to remain centered around food. Though not legally binding, Goodman said the council intends to hold Jamestown to its word.

"These concessions have been expressed in many ways including by commitment in a letter from the developer," he said in a statement.

"These commitments have generally been respected and we expect no less in this case."

A source close to the developer confirmed that it planned to stay true to the commitment of 75 percent food space.

Maintaining Chelsea Market's iconic food concourse was a frequent sticking point in the months of negotiations over the expansion proposal, with both Community Board 4 and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer stressing its importance to the community.

In its recommendation letter to the City Planning Commission, CB4 specifically requested that 60 percent of the ground floor be set aside for food-related, non-chain uses.

The concourse, a frequent draw for tourists, houses iconic shops like The Lobster Place and Amy's Bread, though it also has an outpost of chain store Anthropologie.