Shops Will Not Drop: Poll Finds Majority of New Yorkers Like Chelsea Market Expansion

cm 2012 Shops Will Not Drop: Poll Finds Majority of New Yorkers Like Chelsea Market Expansion

What do you think? (Jamestown Properties)

The expansion of the Chelsea Market has drawn skepticism from some of the city’s most pro-development quarters, most notably City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden, who considers the neighboring High Line one of her hallmark achievements, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, caught between the concerns of her constituents and her boosters in the business community. Both have very powerful sway over the 500,00-square-foot project through the city’s public land-use review process, currently underway.

As for the rest of New York? They seem to like the plan, at least according to a new poll commissioned by supporters of the expansion.

Of the 600 New Yorkers surveyed in all five boroughs on behalf of the Chelsea Market Coalition, roughly half supported the project, with that number growing to 8 out of 10 when given a short description of the expansion, which includes roughly 300,000 square feet within two additions to the popular office and retail hub. What is most surprising about the results is that support among Manhattanites, including those living on the West Side of the island, paralleled or even outpaced support from the rest of the city.

Of Manhattan residents, 49 percent supported the project before they learned about it and 15 percent opposed it, while 77 percent supported it after learning about the project. For West Siders, the numbers were 50 percent for before being apprised of the plans and 10 percent opposed, while were in favor 78 percent for after.

This is contrary to the prevailing beliefs that the community largely opposes the project, augured by protests and opposition from the community board, which gave its conditional approval to the project, but only after a contentious vote tied to the promise of affordable housing. Borough President Scott Stringer also voted against the expansion, though he, like the community board, would support the project if it were moved away from the High Line, along with other concessions.

“This project is strongly supported by New Yorkers, and we look forward to its approval later this year,” Tony Juliano, chairman of the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Chelsea Market Coalition, said in an email.

Currently, Jamestown Properties wants to add an eight-story, 240,000-square-foot office tower on top of the 10th Avenue side of the building overlooking the High Line and a smaller L-shaped 90,000-sqaure-foot Tetris-y addition perched atop Budakkan on Ninth Avenue. The former Nabisco factory measures 1.2 million square feet, so this would increase its size by about a quarter.

While many New Yorkers may support the project, they are largely ignorant of it. According to the poll, only 1 in 5 of the 600 registered voters surveyed by Global Strategy Group had heard about the project while 1 in 3 on the West Side knew of the expansion plans. The latter group is defined as residents living between the Battery and 155th Street. The opinions of Chelsea residents, the group most directly impacted by the project, could not be gauged because that sample would have been too small to draw statistical conclusions from.

The biggest reason for supporting the project was on economic grounds, with 80 percent of voters approving of the 5,000 jobs the project is said to facilitate while 65 percent said they strongly support the plan on these grounds. ”With unemployment in New York City hitting 10%, New York City residents want
government leaders to foster, not frustrate, job-creating private development,” Mr. Juliano said.

Still, New Yorkers wanted to balance this economic growth with the needs of the neighborhood, but their concerns of over-development were somewhat muted. Only one-third of New Yorkers polled said overcrowding and congestion would be an issue with the plan while one-quarter of West Siders said this could be a problem.

An education program to teach high school students tech skills that Jamestown has promised also drew favor for the project, some 80 percent. The fact that the new office space is expected to be filled by tech firms also seemed to boost the project, with 60 percent of New Yorkers polled said that was a convincing reason to support the project (only 50 percent said they supported it because the Coalition supported it.)

The one question the poll did not directly address, and the one that seems to concern many locals, as well as the likes of Ms. Burden, is the location of much of the expansion directly over the High Line. There was also no mention of a hotel as part of the Ninth Avenue expansion, but that is because the inclusion of a hotel has been officially abandoned by Jamestown, according to a spokesman for the developer. In fact, this concession, along with the education program and possible creation of affordable housing were used as examples of Jamestown’s willingness to make concessions to the community.

Mayoral candidates may want to take note. While the vast majority of New Yorkers (57 percent) and West Siders (54 percent) polled said the project would play no role in who they support in next year’s elections, 31 percent of New Yorkers and West Siders said it could sway them compared to 7 percent of New Yorkers and 10 percent of West Siders who said they might vote against supporters of the Chelsea Market expansion.

Locals, whose exact opinions are difficult to glean from the broad focus of the poll, remain unconvinced. “You walk the streets with a ‘Save Chelsea Market’ pin and people stop you and say, ‘What do you mean? Oh my god!’ the reaction is just so strong to this,” Lesley Doyel, co-chair of the Save Chelsea coalition, said in a phone interview. “I don’t know anyone who likes this.” Though, as the poll indicates, it also seems like many of them had no idea the project was happening.

“This is not at all a NIMBY situation because we are not opposed to development, there has been so much of it in recent years, and much of it good, but at a certain point, you have to say enough,” she said. “I don’t want to say Disneyland, but that is how it is beginning to feel, we are so overcrowded.”

Ms. Doyel called the poll flawed because it was furnished for by a group supporting the plan, and points to a previous poll of the community that she had worked to debunk. “This is an effort by the developer—it’s a paid pollster, and they’re getting the results they’re paid to get.”