Chelsea Market Community Givebacks Neither Permanent Nor Guaranteed |

Chelsea Market Community Givebacks Neither Permanent Nor Guaranteed

We were extremely disappointed this past October when Speaker Christine Quinn and the City Council voted to grant permission for two huge office towers to be built atop the historic Chelsea Market complex, over the objections of many in the community (including our three organizations). Yet again, the City Council was changing local zoning rules to allow developers to reap enormous profits in our neighborhood, while increasing congestion, overtaxing infrastructure, eliminating more light and sky and, in this case, compromising a historic landmark.

We were told, however, that there was a silver lining — the Council made their approval contingent upon a series of community givebacks, including one which (according the Speaker’s press release) “permanently protects 75%” of Chelsea Market’s ground floor space for non-chain food uses. We and many others had complained that Jamestown Properties, the international developers who bought Chelsea Market and sought this upzoning, was replacing the independent food shops which made Chelsea Market special with chains and clothing stores that could be found anywhere. Additionally, the Speaker and the Council promised that Jamestown would be advertising jobs to local residents, providing start-up space for new businesses and providing training and education programs to local residents in need.

While we were unhappy about the overall deal, these “guarantees” at least meant that the community would get some ongoing benefit in exchange for the permanent gift to Jamestown of allowing them to add hundreds of thousands of (previously prohibited) square feet of office space to our neighborhood, on top of a beloved landmark.

Or so we thought. After weeks of inquiry and investigation, we discovered that in fact none of these “guarantees” we just described were really guarantees at all. If Jamestown failed to deliver on any of these promises, they would face no penalty and would get to keep their lucrative approvals from the City Council — even if the community got nothing.

For instance, in spite of the Speaker’s claims, under the agreement the entire ground floor of Chelsea Market can be replaced with The Gap, McDonald’s, or K-Mart. If they did so there would be no penalty, and no rescission of the approvals they received. The same is true if they do not provide any of the other community benefits we mentioned.

Is Jamestown likely to keep these agreements in the short term, in order to avoid embarrassing themselves and their benefactors on the City Council? Probably. But in the long term, we know from experience there is little if any chance of these “guarantees” being kept. A written promise from an owner (who may sell the property at any time ) to an elected official who will, at some point, no longer be in office, hardly constitutes a “permanent guarantee” — which is what these agreements have been touted as.  As all parties now agree, these provisions have absolutely no legal enforceability. It’s a handshake deal between players who may not be around to even complain to years down the road (and if they were, could not do anything about it — legally speaking — if they wanted to).

Whether this arrangement was constructed in this manner as an oversight or by design, we cannot know. Similarly, throughout the public review and approval process for the Chelsea Market upzoning, Jamestown argued and the Council apparently agreed that the large additions to Chelsea Market were necessary in order to accommodate growing tech companies in Chelsea Market and an increased need for office space in the lower Chelsea/Meatpacking District area.  But shortly after the approvals were granted, we became aware that Jamestown Properties had in fact already purchased a large office building directly across the street from Chelsea Market at 450 West 15th Street, as well as an adjacent development site, upon which such space could easily be located.

Additionally, we discovered that among Jamestown Properties’ vast holdings in New York was 1 Times Square — a strategically located office building atop one of New York’s largest transportation hubs and in the middle of one of New York’s most robust office markets, which Jamestown has kept almost entirely empty for more than fifteen years. These highlight the lack of transparency and candor in both the application and approval process for this zoning change, and the lack of consistency between the justifications for these approvals and the actual facts.

Factual inconsistencies have unfortunately been pervasive in this process. What is clear however is that the community will indisputably bear the permanent consequences of the upzoning granted to Jamestown in increased traffic and congestion, loss of light and air, and compromise of a cherished local landmark.  But the permanent benefits we have been promised in return are very unlikely — at least in some cases — to be permanent at all.

Lesley Doyel, Co-President, Save Chelsea

Andrew Berman, Executive Director,  Greenwich Village Society  for Historic Preservation

William Borock, President,  Council of Chelsea Block Associations.


  1. Jordan Sassi says:

    Lesley, Andrew and William pretend to be the voice of the Chelsea community – simply, they are not. They may be a VOCAL voice of a few but truth be told, many residents of Chelsea are in favor of economic development and smart real estate development. Jamestown and their predecessors created Chelsea Market. It was their vision that created the dynamic and special place that is Chelsea Market. It was not Andrew's vision, it was not Lesleys nor Williams. Yet, they parade around as "preservationists." They only thing I have seen Lesley preserve is her townhouse that was gifted to her and Andrew's "preservation" seems to be limited to his name in press. I for one am excited to see their new plans, particularly with their acquisition of Milk Studios. Lets not these three stifle the growth of our community!

    1. Your ad hominem attack says everything we need to know about your credibility. Where would we be without Lesley, Andrew and William? In the hands of public officials who see the land use review procedure as a tool for their own ambitions, and would get away with even more if not for such citizen activists. If Chelsea turns into Dubai on the Hudson, everyone who owns property here – Lesley included – stands to gain monetarily. What does it say that she places the character and authenticity of her community first? Compare that to Jamestown's abject money grubbing, and sold-out public officials who'd rather pander to fatcats than represent their constituents. What's your plan, Jordan? Cheerlead the transformation of Chelsea into an anonymous cash machine and move on to the next target for greedy developers to ruin? There are more important things than the almighty dollar.

  2. Concerned Meatpacker says:

    The Gap, McDonalds & KMart (as well as the Whitney Museum, etc. etc) will get to participate in the latest 'experiment' – bringing a high-pressure gas pipeline (350psi) into a densely populated urban area – right across the street from Chelsea Market. An excerpt from an excellent article in Chelsea Now by E. Stukane:
    "The Spectra natural gas pipeline that has arrived at the Gansevoort Peninsula at the edge of the Meatpacking District will affect the CB4 area of Chelsea as well as the West Village. This high pressure 30-inch pipeline — which seemed not to affect Chelsea at first — is being extended by Con Edison with a new 1500-foot extension pipeline going north on 10th Avenue to its West 15th Street terminal." (my note: based on previous explosions in other areas projected blast area ten blocks or so) Where will they run?

  3. Interesting point of view, keep up the good writing.

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