Chelsea Marketing: Expansion Fits With Beloved Building’s Past, But What About Chelsea’s Future?

The proposed hotel on Ninth Avenue.

The hotel will be built, Tetris-like, around the existing building.

But the idea of Chelsea becoming an office district is precisely what repels many locals. “This is not Times Square,” said David Holowka, an architect, longtime resident and member of the Save Chelsea coalition. He has drawn up proposals of his own, on his blog Archi-Takes, that proposes Jamestown move the bulk of its development to Ninth Avenue, where it would not overhang the High Line. He argues that the move is a baldfaced attempt to plunk down a new office building, with choice views up and down the city’s hottest new attraction.

Jamestown has said that this would destroy the interior space of the building, which everyone loves so much, and the structure on the western end is all that could accommodate the expansion. They already have plans for a nine-story hotel above the Buddakkan space on Ninth Avenue, that this would interfere with, though the developer told the community board in April it would abandon the hotel if asked—though it would still build all the space, a total of 330,000 square feet on both ends on top of the 1.2 million that already exists. This is half the size of the Googleplex (which Jamestown sold to the company for a record $1.8 billion), but also bigger than just about anything else in this corner of town.

“They’re really just trying to maximize their profits, aren’t they?” said Jeff Vandenburg, Mr. Cohen’s architect on the original Chelsea Market. He worked on a similar proposal to add onto the building in the middle of last decade, but he pointed out that his stepped down toward the High Line to minimize impacts. “Money finally wins out, and these things get as bulky as possible,” Mr. Vandenburg said. “It’s always bulkamania. It’s always bulkamania.”

The big issue for a lot of locals is whether or not the community actually benefits from this proposal. More office workers may be good for the city’s tech sector and overall economy, but what does Chelsea get out of this? Furthermore, the Chelsea Market was intentionally carved out of the rezoning that led buildings to skyrocket around the High Line. Now that it is being allowed to grow, there are fears other developers will make the same requests. “Cohen asked for it, and we fought him tooth and nail,” said Ed Kirkland, former chair of the preservation committee at the community board and one of the authors of the rezoning. “At least he was a local guy. Jamestown is just going to take their money back to Atlanta.”

There is a certain irony that people who bemoan the High Line at home, and profess to rarely visit it, are now fighting for its salvation from shadows and overdevelopment. Remember the park’s Martin Luther moment, when an anonymous neighbor posted a screed throughout the area concluding, “If you see an empty space, leave it empty. Otherwise there will be no spaces for New Yorkers.” Jamestown has not taken heed, and its main excuse for building is supporting the park: it will pay $19 million to help fund the ongoing maintenance, money Friends of the High Line, a booster for the project, is desperate for.

“The High Line may not be for us, but neither are these new buildings,” Mr. Kirkland said.

Architect Gregg Pasquarelli knows a thing or two about additions on top of Chelsea buildings. His SHoP Architects, better known for the Barclays Center and East River Esplanade, designed the Porter House across the street from the market. It happens to be one of the firm’s first successes, the dark metal box with the vertical lights running through it, perched atop the yellow-brick Old Homestead Steakhouse.

Mr. Pasquarelli has called it home since it opened a decade ago, and he said he welcomes his new neighbor, even if it will block his view.

“What’s wrong with congestion?” he asks. “I’m all for congestion, it’s the lifeblood of the city. The neighborhood can handle the density.”

This is the way New York, Chelsea, Nabisco, has always been developing. The city, Google, needs the space, needs the money. There is nowhere else to go but up. A development promise has been undone. It is not the first time, and it will not be the last. At least this is taking place atop an already big building in an already crowded district.

“I just wish they had been a little more ambitious with their design,” Mr. Pasquarelli said. “It’s fairly suburban.”

Chelsea Marketing: Expansion Fits With Beloved Building’s Past, But What About Chelsea’s Future?