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City Halts Work on Hotel Chelsea Renovation After Old Owner Yanks Permit

By Mathew Katz | January 16, 2014 9:16am
  There has been no construction at the Hotel Chelsea since its previous owners withdrew permits in December. 
There has been no construction at the Hotel Chelsea since its previous owners withdrew permits in December. 
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CHELSEA — Hotel Chelsea's transformation into an upscale boutique hotel has slammed to a halt after the former owners requested the cancellation of all Department of Buildings permits for the work, prompting the city to shut down the project, city records show.

The permits for the renovation were held by the Chetrit Group, which sold the historic hotel to luxury hotelier King & Grove in August. But Chetrit withdrew the permits on Dec. 20, and the Department of Buildings froze all construction at the site the next day.

A spokeswoman for King & Grove said the permit issue was the result of a clerical oversight, but work was still halted as of Wednesday. King & Grove has applied for new permits and hopes the Department of Buildings will issue them within the next week, the spokeswoman said.

The Department of Buildings and the Chetrit Group did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The stop-work order came as King & Grove made a complete break from the Chetrit Group. King & Grove canned Gene Kaufman, the original architect behind the renovation that started in 2011, and brought in Marvel Architects to redesign the overhaul.

"They are still working out what will remain [of Kaufman's design]," said Courtney Dolan, a spokeswoman for King & Grove. "Much of it is new."

Tenants had continually complained about conditions in the landmark hotel when it was owned by real estate magnate Joseph Chetrit, taking him to court several times for a renovation that filled the building with dust, mold and toxic compounds. 

In May 2012, a judge ordered Chetrit to clean up the renovation, though almost a year later tenants still complained of "unlivable conditions." 

Shortly after King & Grove took over last year, tenants praised the company for improving living conditions, speedily making repairs and giving construction workers a separate entrance to the building.

The company also brought in a new building manager, Rick Friaglia, in August, specifically to work with tenants in the building.

"That's been the goal — to improve building conditions," Dolan said.

The company even catered a going-away bash for a tenant as a sign of good faith to residents there, according to Zoe Pappas, who leads a tenants association at the Hotel Chelsea.

"They are behaving very courteously and civilized with all tenants," Pappas said. "It's a huge, huge change — they are making a big effort."

Unlike last year, when the building lost heat, hot water and cooking gas for days, several tenants said that the building's heat and hot water were working better than ever this winter.

The weekslong delay in construction should not significantly push back the Chelsea's rebirth as a boutique hotel — Dolan said it was on target to reopen to the public by mid-2015.

"This place was in a coma," Pappas said. "Now we are waking up."