One year ago, Jamestown Properties’ Plans for Chelsea Market hit a Dead End.
Daniel Edward Rosen March 6, 2012, 10:50 a.m.
Michael Phillips, a robust, healthy-looking fellow with the sun-kissed wavy blond hair of his California youth, wants to add office and hotel space to the Chelsea Market, the historic former biscuit building that stretches an entire city block.
The plan is fairly straightforward: Add 240,000 square feet of Class A office space on top of the 10th Avenue side of Chelsea Market and add 90,000 square feet of hotel space to the Ninth Avenue portion of the city block-long property.
Why the proposal would cause a flurry of opposition from neighboring groups—save for a singular vote of support from the Friends of the High Line—has been a matter of befuddlement and disappointment for Mr. Phillips, the chief operating officer of Jamestown Properties, the development group that since 2004 has envisioned the building’s upward expansion despite opposition from some residents.
“We easily have 350,000 square feet of need now,” said Mr. Phillips during an interview with The Commercial Observer last week. “We can’t just go to the vacant lot down the street and build a new building, because the infrastructure, the cooling tower, the electrical vaults, the recording studios, the servers are all up in this building.”
The expansion plan, he has long insisted, would inject $300 million into the local economy, bring $200 million in construction-related spending, add $7 million in incremental property taxes per year and create 1,200 permanent jobs in industries that are the most “democratic in terms of formal education,” like food, media and technology.
After submitting his plans for certification for an eventual review under city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, Mr. Phillips will once again have to parse out the angry protestations of Chelsea Market’s neighbors from his steadfast hope that Jamestown Properties will one day see a new office and hotel sitting on top of the market.
When drawings of the project was first introduced to the public in 2011, the cantilevered glass box was derided by Community Board 4 as “ugly.” Other detractors, most of whom sat in Community Board 4’s meeting while wearing “Save Chelsea Market” pins in a show of support, saw the plan as an attack on the retail identity of Chelsea Market.
But Chelsea Market had already existed as a combination of retail and office space, with tenants like Major League Baseball and the Food Network occupying and expanding inside the Market’s office space in recent years.
The design plans were then altered, and the designers had pledged to move the mass down by 26 feet and eastward on the 10th Avenue side of Chelsea Market.
“What we’ve done is we’ve expanded the floorplates east and we’ve introduced the third structural point, which will be the main elevator core that will come up from the concourse,” said Mr. Burns.
That third leg allowed Jamestown Properties and Studio Architects to flatten out the building while eschewing the pronounced and cantilevered style that was so ill received by the public. The new rendering, a steel design sitting atop a masonry base, was now more of a commentary between the new and the old in place of a stark contrast.
“It took longer than anyone would have liked it to,” said Mr. Phillips, of the redesign.
But the redesign was hit with more admonishments.
The feedback from organizations like the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and Save Chelsea was sour, some going so far as to slag off the proposed additions as a “spaceship.”
The prevailing fear of those detractors is that, with a growing nightclub and luxury retail presence in the neighboring meatpacking district and the emergence of office buildings like Google’s 111 Eighth Avenue, the office addition will be the last pin to transform Chelsea into a veritable Times Square.
“It offers nothing but harm to the rest of Chelsea,” said architect David Holowka in a recent DNA Info story about the proposed project.
The inspiration for the first design of the office addition was having it look like a dramatic departure from its Chelsea Market host.
“It was about something new sitting on something old,” said David Burns, the architect behind the project and a principal at Studios Architecture.
In 1932, the 10th Avenue portion of the Chelsea Market, which was then the New York Biscuit Company, was knocked down by architect Louis Wirsching Jr. to accommodate an “elevated freight railroad viaduct” (now commonly referred to as the High Line).
With the new development, Studio Architectures was not allowed to penetrate the High Line, leaving the last 60 feet closest to 10th Avenue unavailable for expansion, said Mr. Burns.
The first plan involved two structural towers—one on the north side and the other on the south side—that duplicated pre-existing columns and sit on top of a platform, which then cantilevers in both directions to offer support to the whole building.
“It’s not a simple project, in that we have to build a platform above this building,” said Mr. Phillips.
The biggest knock from protesters on the proposed development is its need: Is it truly necessary to introduce new office space into the Chelsea area?
“Would the city really change its own zoning so that new office space can be built in a neighborhood that does not need it, and clearly does not want it?” Jim Jasper, head of the West 15th Street Block Association, asked in a recent DNAInfo.com article.
Mr. Phillips and Jamestown Properties fail to see what harm the project brings, and stress the growing demand for office space in the area.
MLB has expanded by nearly 45,000 square feet inside Chelsea Market to take a total of 116,000 square feet. Google now has 108,000 square feet in the building, while an emerging tech company has continued to grow into 16,000 square feet inside the Market.
“Many people see Chelsea Market as a retail identity, not as the office building that sits on top of a retail concourse,” said Mr. Phillips. “So the additions, we’ve spent a lot of time trying to educate everyone that the additions actually have very little intervention on the ground floor.”
- Studio Architects
- Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation
- Uniform Land Use Review Procedure
- Food Network
- Jim Jasper
- West 15th Street Block Association
- Friends of the High Line
- Jamestown Properties
- David Holowka
- Community Board 4
- Chelsea Market
- DNA Info
- Save Chelsea
- "Save Chelsea Market
- Michael Phillips
- David Burns