Jamestown Properties’ Michael Phillips on Feeding Chelsea

As chief operating officer of Jamestown Properties, Michael Phillips has helped create and oversee a portfolio of more than 80 properties across nine states, totaling over 25 million square feet. But the jewel in his and Jamestown’s crown may well be Chelsea Market, the wildly popular foodie mecca in the Meatpacking District. Jamestown is currently working on a contentious expansion of that Ninth Avenue destination that will result in an additional 330,000 square feet of office space (an earlier plan for a 90,000-square-foot hotel was scrapped).

The Commercial Observer grabbed a few minutes with Mr. Phillips inside Jamestown’s swank, canopied, free-crepe-dispensing booth at ICSC’s RECon global retail real estate summit in Las Vegas. There, the James Beard Foundation vice chair and Real Estate Board of New York governor shared some morsels about Jamestown’s unannounced plans for a second sit-down restaurant at Chelsea Market, its imminent foray into the Brooklyn culinary world, and marquee projects in Georgia and California.

Michael Phillips (Credit: Jamestown)

Michael Phillips (Credit: Jamestown)

The Commercial Observer: Let’s start by talking about the convention itself. I’ve been asking people how RECon 2013 compares with recent years past. Is the mood more upbeat?
Mr. Phillips: Sure. Clearly, I think people are expanding and retail is healthy. There’s demand. I think it’s very much a good time for the show.

Outside of the Jamestown booth, are there any you’ve made a big point of visiting?
I think [The McDevitt Company] is always a focus for us. But that’s a good question. It’s been so busy that it’s tough to get out of the booth sometimes.

What would you say is the Jamestown project that might be sparking the most conversations?
I think that Ponce City Market in Atlanta is really dynamic. We’re getting a lot of interest for this. It’s a two-million-square-foot adaptive reuse basically set to be Chelsea Market in Atlanta. I think that’s pretty exciting. We bought [seven assets in] downtown San Luis Obispo, California. That’s really unexpected and fantastic. It’s got the best demographics of a small coastal town, and Cal Poly’s based there.
In New York, we have Milk Studios retail. That’s a 13,000-foot box that’s getting unbelievable interest.

Which retailers, or types of retailers, have you been talking to about the Milk Studios space?
It’s soft goods. I would call it carriage trade—upper-middle. I don’t think it’s couture. It’s not microbrand couture.

Can you name anyone whom you’ve been talking to?
I can’t. I would be killed if I did.
So Milk’s there, and then 530 Fifth Avenue is pretty dynamic below it. That’s 44,000 feet. There’s a lot of exciting things happening on Fifth.

What’s the latest at 530 Fifth Avenue? That’s a fairly recent joint acquisition.
The lobby’s under renovation. It should deliver in the fall of this year. We’ve been doing sort of base building work to open up more space in the basement and offering a configuration plan. We have a corner 14,000-foot box and then an inline 25,000-foot box. There’s also the opportunity to go up to 44,000 foot in one swoop. That’s been tracking nicely, and we’re seeing a lot of activity come down Fifth Avenue.

Have you finalized any deals there?
No—it’s early yet.

I’m interested—and I think a lot of New Yorkers are interested—in Chelsea Market. And I know the whole evolution regarding that expansion, the local opposition, came as a surprise to you. How’s it going now?
We’re planning to move forward. We’re doing our construction drawings and working on the expansion plans. We just did a package of eight new kiosks in the market, which are really, really chic. We’ve got Cambodian sandwiches, spice vendors, a taco truck and Hybird …

 … Hybird is a fun one
Yeah, you know, Chelsea Market’s just on fire. It’s fantastic. We’re enjoying a great reception in the community. And I think the additions will be a non-event for people. They’ll be above the building and won’t impact the ground floor.

The Commercial Observer wrote a story earlier this year about a minor controversy regarding the distribution of ground-floor retail at Chelsea Market. People wanted it to remain 75 percent food vendors, and there was some confusion that a legal agreement allocated just 60 percent of the floor to that sector. Can you comment on that?
Well, Chelsea Market’s whole identity is food. So to have it not remain food long-term would be crazy. We agreed that on the interior concourse, excluding the avenues, that it would be 75 percent food.

It’s hard to talk about the Meatpacking District these days without mentioning the High Line. What effect do you think the High Line’s extension to 34th Street will have on the neighborhood?
I actually think 10th Avenue’s the great story here. There’s the retail being built under the High Line between 14th and 15th Streets. But then you have Steven Alan at 19th Street and 10th Avenue, you have Park, Cookshop, the new High Line Hotel [at 180 10th Avenue] going in. There’s Bottino. Tenth Avenue is just reaping the benefits of the High Line.

Christine Quinn has commented on the Chelsea Market expansion. Are you following the mayoral race closely?
I’m following it a little bit.

Do you have a favorite candidate?
I think it’s too early. There’s obviously a varied field of candidates, and they all bring their own perspective to it. It should be a very interesting next four months.

Are there any other newcomers heading toward Chelsea Market?
Yup, we’re working on a restaurant that we haven’t announced yet. I don’t know if you’ve been in the new oyster bar at Lobster Place, Cull & Pistol. That’s fantastic. And now we’re working on another one, which we’ll announce soon.

Will the upcoming restaurant have a chef whose name New Yorkers will recognize?
Hmmm. I think it will be with a chef who small foodies might recognize. We’re not doing any more star chefs or big chefs. I want to work with somebody who has grown up organically in the food scene in New York and provide them with a platform to do great food.

Speaking of foodies, Brooklyn is obviously often associated with the so-called artisanal food movement. Do you have any designs on Brooklyn?
Yeah, absolutely. I think that … yes. I’ll have something to tell you about that soon.

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