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Former Hotel Chelsea Architect Wants to Halt Renovation

By Mathew Katz | May 23, 2014 7:21am
 A rendering of Gene Kaufman's design for the Hotel Chelsea's renovation.
A rendering of Gene Kaufman's design for the Hotel Chelsea's renovation.
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Gene Kaufman

CHELSEA — The architect who was once behind the massive and controversial renovation of the historic Hotel Chelsea says its new owners are using his design without his permission.

Architect Gene Kaufman, who designed a renovation to the hotel while it was owned by Joseph Chetrit, is seeking a court injunction to stop work being done by new owners King & Grove to transform the Chelsea into a luxury hotel.

In a lawsuit filed in New York State Supreme Court on May 2, Kaufman claimed that the continuing use of his designs without his oversight could "cause irreparable damage" to his reputation and open him up to "liability claims that could result in damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars."

He also demanded an injunction to stop the current construction until the new owners file "new architectural and engineering plans with the Department of Buildings in connection with the Project."

The suit also claims that King & Grove owes Kaufman $80,000 in back fees for his work on the hotel.

King & Grove, a luxury chain of hotels owned by Ed Scheetz, bought the Hotel Chelsea from Joseph Chetrit in the summer of 2013, largely putting an end to a nearly two-year period where tenants complained that the renovation was destroying their homes.

Scheetz, who also owns the McCarren Hotel in Williamsburg, rebranded the chain under the name "Chelsea Hotels" on Thursday.

The company brought in Marvel Architects to significantly overhaul Kaufman's plan shortly after the purchase. According to Department of Buildings records, Marvel filed its own plans for the building in August 2013.

"We terminated [Gene Kaufman Architect] last fall and hired Marvel Architects to redesign the plan in a manner consistent with our vision for the restoration of the Chelsea," said Felice Jiang, a spokeswoman for the hotel chain, in a statement.

"Just as we have been making changes to improve the conditions at the Chelsea, Marvel Architects has had a proven track record when it comes to preservation and sensitive redevelopment."

Jiang added that the company already offered to pay the outstanding $80,000 and has the money in an escrow account, but Kaufman refused payment and demanded he get credit for the design of the Chelsea.

"We are happy to pay him what he is owed; however, we’re unable to give him credit for any aspect of the restoration of the Chelsea as it would be false and violate the vision and integrity of the Chelsea," she said.

While Kaufman supervised the renovation between May 2011 and March 2013, tenants living in the building suffered what they called "unlivable" conditions filled with dust, mold and burst pipes.

The tenants filed a lawsuit against former owner Joseph Chetrit and in May 2012, a judge ordered Chetrit to clean up and repair damage from the renovation.

Kaufman and Chetrit also came under fire from tenants and Community Board 4 when they sought approval to build a 150-person rooftop bar near residents' apartments.

A spokeswoman for Kaufman did not respond to requests for comment.