Mêlée in the Meatpacking District: We Don’t Want Your $2M. Condos!

The dirty battle between models and meatpackers for that gritty quadrangle just north of the West Village known as the meatpacking district has heated up. For a long time, the two populations were mostly content to coexist-the meatpackers working in the streets by day, the models slinking into the hip bistros and velvet-rope lounges by night and then scurrying away by daybreak. But things are getting messy.

Starting with the arrival of high-end retailer Jeffrey two years ago, the neighborhood has quickly filled up with hip boutiques (Bodum, Zoo York and, reported to be coming soon, Alexander McQueen), furniture stores (Herman Miller, Vitra) and more restaurants (Fressen, Le Gans and Markt). But development, which had been restricted to the outskirts of the meatpacking district (Julianne Moore’s apartment at 345 West 13th Street is on the market for $2.2 million), is now inching into the heart of it.

Developer Stephen Touhey is seeking the city’s permission to build a 32-story condo designed by French architect Jean Nouvel at 828 Washington Street, between Little West 12th and 13th Streets. One block east, a partnership of four investors bought 29 Ninth Avenue earlier this year for $8.1 million, and they’re renovating the building for about $7 million to attract high-end tenants and maybe even a hotelier. And Washington-based Starwood Urban Investments paid $10.2 million in July for a five-story brick building at 430 Washington Street; one tenant said his rent quadrupled under the new owners.

Longtime meat-market proprietors like restaurateur Florent Morellet and Hogs and Heifers owner Michelle Dell are campaigning against residential development in favor of retaining the commercial-only zoning in order to preserve the nightclubs and the meatpacking businesses of the neighborhood. “Within a year, we’d have to close,” said Ms. Dell, who questioned how long $2 million condo owners would put up with a late-night biker bar. “This neighborhood opened up its arms to nightlife,” Ms. Dell said. “The city encouraged nightlife here. Now where is the nightlife supposed to go?”

But many of the major meatpacking businesses and several nightclubs have already been displaced because of rising rents and lucrative offers to sell. Jerry Romanoff, who sold his buildings to Mr. Touhey and moved his operation to New Jersey, said, “There are too many problems for the meatpackers” in the meatpacking district. “There are no loading docks, no parking and too many food-safety issues-it’s only a matter of time before it gets shut down.”

On Nov. 20, Mr. Touhey’s plans were discussed by the Board of Standards of Appeals, which rules on deviations from zoning and building codes. Mr. Touhey had proposed a trapezoidal tower with unimpeded views of the river and two smaller, wedge-shaped structures. The buildings-designed to be connected by elevated, glass-enclosed bridges-would have corrugated metal exteriors and special enormous windows, to be installed by foreign craftsmen. Mr. Touhey would also like to convert an 18,000-square-foot section of the High Line, the abandoned elevated railline, into a public park-potentially saving it from demolition at the hands of the Chelsea Property Owners’ Association. And he is also offering to build another public park on the remaining 22,000-square-foot portion of that block of Washington Street, which is owned by the New York State Department of Transportation. The board asked Mr. Touhey to come back on Jan. 11 with more details

Addressing the neighborhood’s concerns, Mr. Touhey, a managing partner at the Landmark Development company, said, “We are marketing to a certain kind of customer who likes the grit and nightlife-people who like the meat market.” He estimated that up to 70 residents will occupy the 34 condominiums he would sell for $2.5 million to $3 million a piece.

The other two projects capitalize on the artistic and fashion backgrounds of many of the current commercial tenants, including the Boss modeling agency; public-relations firms KCD and KRT; designer John Bartlett; photo studios Industria and Milk; fashion photographers Christian Witkin, Albert Watson, Steven Klein and Dahlen; caterer Serena Bass; florist Robert Isabell; and artists Pat Steir and Matthew Barney.

Twenty-nine Ninth Avenue will get a face lift, as well as exposed brick walls, new mechanicals, a refurbished lobby and new passenger elevators in its interior. Sinvin Realty, which is marketing the 72,000 square feet, reportedly has two tenants lined up: Jean-Georges Vongerichten has signed a lease for 15,000 feet of ground and basement space for an Asian restaurant slated to open next year, and ultra-hip Vitra, a Swiss design company that updates the midcentury modern aesthetic in home furnishings, signed a lease in July for 1,800 square feet of retail space on the building’s ground floor and 10,300 square feet on its second floor for showroom offices. They are also discussing using the rest of the space for a boutique hotel.

And in the Starwood building, where Hogs and Heifers is located, Michelle Dell said that rents have gone up “drastically.” A print shop, a carpenter and a meatpacking business have also left the building. Since then, the advertising firm Ground Zero has been in negotiations to lease all four upper floors, and Ms. Dell is considering opening a bike-wear boutique on the ground floor.

The 50 or so meatpacking businesses that remain in the district are small-like Lamb Unlimited, which exclusively supplies lamb to Peter Luger in Williamsburg and Citarella-and claim they can’t easily relocate to New Jersey or the city’s new Hunts Point Meat Market in the South Bronx. But they, too, know that it’s just a matter of time before Prada and prime beef lock horns once and for all.

Fran Migliore, whose family-run R&W Provision Co. has been operating in the meat market for 49 years, said about the people headed to the neighborhood: “They’ll complain about the noise, the pollution and the guys in the street who use the F-word.”

Upper East Side

180 East 79th Street Two-bed, two-bath, 1,400-square-foot co-op. Asking: $1.2 million. Selling: $1.125 million. Charges: $1,526; 42 percent tax-deductible. Time on the market: five weeks. STORMING MANHATTAN A couple from Omaha gave themselves exactly one weekend to buy an apartment in Manhattan. That Friday, they called broker Pierrette Hogan of MLBKaye International Realty, who’d been selling this two-bedroom apartment in a prewar co-op on 79th Street and Third Avenue for about a month. They insisted on seeing the place immediately, so Ms. Hogan gave them a tour of this co-op, which has a large, recently renovated kitchen, sunken living room and bedrooms with city views. The couple returned the next morning with some family members to get a second opinion, and the next night they made an offer. The sellers-a couple who were moving to a smaller place in the city-accepted the offer two days later.

400 East 77th Street Three-bed, three-bath, 2,000-square-foot co-op. Asking: $999,000. Selling: $1 million. Charges: $2,100; 60 percent tax-deductible. Time on the market: five months. DOCTOR AND HIS WIFE DISPLACE TWO FAMILIES A cardiologist and his wife, who works in the fashion industry, decided it was time to move out of their rental on the Upper East Side. “They wanted space,” said Insignia Douglas Elliman broker Elaine Tross. What they got were two apartments on the 11th floor of this postwar co-op on 77th Street and First Avenue that they’ll turn into one three-bedroom apartment with a den, living room and dining room. The two apartments did not initially come on the market together. The first was a two-bedroom, two-bath place that was owned by a couple with two children. Ms. Tross suggested that their neighbors, a couple with a baby, sell their apartment as well. “They said, ‘If you can do it, do it,’” she said. And she did. The combination was a particularly easy one, as the two apartments can be connected through the living rooms.

Gramercy Park

32 Gramercy Park South One-bed, one-bath, 450-square-foot co-op. Asking; $309,000. Selling: $300,000. Charges: $668; 50 percent tax-deductible. Time on the market: one month. SHRINK BUYS 450 SQUARE FEET WHOLE-EVEN THE DUSTBUSTER How do you turn a cookie-cutter studio into something livable? Ask Michelle Birnbach, an interior designer who works at RDD Associates in Granite Springs, N.Y. About six months ago, she and her husband, who live in Westchester, bought this place to use as a pied-à-terre . At the time, it looked like an ugly dorm room, but Ms. Birnbach had vision-and as her broker, Jessica Huff of Bellmarc Realty, said, “She loves a project.” Ms. Birnbach repainted the harsh white walls with a dark beige, got rid of the metal kitchen cabinets for off-white wood ones, and redid the bathrooms using black slate with flecks of gold. But perhaps most importantly, she created a bedroom by putting up a wall of French doors 10 feet from one wall. “It was wonderful because when you sat in the living room, all the light would come in through the French doors, and you could lie in bed and look out at the Empire State Building,” said Ms. Birnbach. “I basically went nuts.” She even put out a bowl of Nips candies on the coffee table because the wrappers matched the colors of the apartment. When Ms. Birnbach decided to sell the place, a psychologist from Boston was the first person through the door. She was impressed and made an offer on the vamped-up apartment right away-including all the furnishings and linens. “She even asked for the Dustbuster,” said Ms. Birnbach.

Battery Park City

Puffy and Russell Simmons Decide Not To Do Business

Two years after putting his 12-story building at 813 Park Avenue on the market for $15 million (it’s currently priced at $16 million) and beginning a search of luxury apartments throughout the city, Sean (Puffy) Combs hasn’t moved an inch.

Last August, it seemed that Mr. Combs had found a new place to call home when he signed a contract to buy a penthouse duplex at a small condo building on Liberty Street in Battery Park City from his friend and fellow hip-hop impresario, Russell Simmons. The apartment, which Mr. Simmons purchased in 1998, is 7,070 square feet and has 2,813 square feet of terrace space.

But while Mr. Combs and Mr. Simmons waited for the condo board to approve the sale, the World Trade Center was demolished, and the building-which is only about 100 yards away from ground zero-is currently on the city’s list of unsound structures.

Mr. Simmons told The Observer that he returned Mr. Combs’ deposit. “It’s just a pile of bricks,” he said sadly about his former home. “Well, not bricks, but it might as well be.”

While downtown brokers were surprised that Puffy would be let off the hook so easily-”He signed to purchase, and it isn’t so easy to back out,” said one broker-they said he’s now back in the market, though not necessarily to buy.

Said another broker: “He is definitely looking for short-term rentals.”