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Turning the High Line Into ... the High Life

MARILYNN K. YEE/The New York Times

The High Line, above, looking north from 19th Street.

Published: December 18, 2005

SAY bye-bye to the parking lots along 10th Avenue, between 14th and 30th Streets, and maybe a few of the chaotic clubs and bars on the side streets. Bid adieu to the rough-and-tumble allure of taxi garages and the fringe of weeds running the length of the High Line, the derelict but irresistibly charming dinosaur of an elevated railroad that is the backbone of West Chelsea's thriving gallery scene.

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Frank Maresca, from top, a partner in the Ricco/Maresca Gallery; Melva Max, the owner of La Luncheonette; and the developers Craig D. Wood of Cape Advisors Inc. and Alf Naman of Alf Naman Real Estate Advisors.

Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times

The High Line crossing 10th Avenue at 16th Street.

Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times

Magda Sawon, the owner of the Postmasters Gallery.

Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times

The High Line heading south from 19th Street.

Say hello to designer buildings, valet parking, concierges, meditation gardens and, oh yes, lines of limos jockeying for position outside the borough's trendiest new restaurants branded by celebrity chefs like Mario Batali, Tom Colicchio and Masaharu Morimoto.

The heady grit-and-glamour cocktail that New Yorkers so love about the meatpacking district is about to expand northward - although perhaps with more glamour than grit in the final equation - as the city's major developers snatch up any and all available parcels along the High Line and start work on a planned 5,500 units of housing, all but 1,100 of them for the fabulously well-heeled.

Zoning changes made final last summer have won praise for how they put the spotlight on the elevated 22-block park the High Line is to become and protect the estimated 200 galleries while allowing extensive luxury residential development. Height limitations and required setbacks on some new buildings will complement the 66-year-old structure and conserve views of it, while preserving some of the light and open spaces that have defined the neighborhood. Work on the High Line is to begin next year, with the first phase scheduled to be completed by 2008.

Alf Naman, a principal with Alf Naman Real Estate Advisors, plans four projects and is considering a fifth along the High Line, which the city officially took possession of last month from CSX Transportation.

"The neighborhood would not be half as interesting if it didn't have the galleries, which bring vitality and life to an area that would otherwise be just a bunch of residential buildings," said Mr. Naman. One of his projects is a 20-story condo tower designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel.

What some say amounts to Manhattan's biggest land grab since a handful of Native Americans took a few beads in trade for the entire borough gets high grades for the most part, but that was not always the case. Developers balked - and some who wanted it torn down threatened to sue - when Friends of the High Line was formed in 1999 and proposed the idea of turning the railroad bed into an elevated park. Six years later, the corridor is like catnip to the same developers, with more than a dozen projects planned and countless others being considered.

At the southern end of the High Line, at Gansevoort Street in the meatpacking district, the Dia:Chelsea museum will serve as anchor for the new neighborhood, with a tony 330-room André Balazs hotel, the Standard, nearby. One block north, 10 stories of commercial space will be added to the building on the southwest corner of 14th Street and 10th Avenue, and the adjacent building will likewise be converted to commercial space, according to Charles Blakeman of High Line Development LLC.

At 16th Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues, partners in the Chelsea Market, Stephan Zoukis, who is a partner at Jamestown Properties, and Irwin Cohen, have hired Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects to explore adding a residential component to the popular shopping complex, which will also be home to Mr. Morimoto's restaurant. Across the street, at 85 10th Avenue, is where Del Posto, Mr. Batali's new restaurant with Joseph Bastianich and his mother, Lidia Bastianich, is to open sometime in the next month. Craftsteak, Mr. Colicchio's restaurant, is to follow next year.

Where the Chelsea Garden Center once stood, on the east side of 10th Avenue between 16th and 17th Streets, the Related Companies and Taconic Investment Partners plan a 23-story tower that will have 200 condos and 250 rentals, with stores on the 10th Avenue side. Related is also considering development at 30th Street and 10th Avenue, where the High Line ends, but no details are available, according to David J. Wine, vice chairman of the company.

Diagonally opposite the Related project, on the block that stretches between 10th and 11th Avenues and 17th and 18th Streets, Edison Properties will be constructing two mixed commercial and residential buildings, both designed by Robert A. M. Stern Architects, replacing two parking lots. Both buildings have been controversial because of their height, one topping out at 25 to 30 stories, the other at 35 to 40 stories - more than double most of the other new projects.

The community fought the heights of these buildings but lost. Melva Max, the owner of La Luncheonette, across the street from the Edison projects, who has lived in the neighborhood since opening the restaurant 18 years ago, worries about density and how the tall buildings will obscure views of the new 6.7-acre High Line park.

"You won't even see the High Line any more and there won't be any light," Ms. Max said. "What are they going to do, put grow lights in there?"

On 11th Avenue between 18th and 19th Streets, the buildings are on a smaller scale. Work has begun on a project by the Georgetown Company and IAC/InterActiveCorp, a nine-story building that will be the architect Frank Gehry's first in New York. Adjacent to the Kitchen Theater Company, it will serve as headquarters for IAC's Home Shopping Network, Ticketmaster, Lending Tree, Expedia.com, Match.com and Citysearch. Georgetown is also in the predevelopment stage of a mixed-use building, likewise designed by Frank Gehry, that is to occupy the 10th Avenue side of the block.

As per the new zoning, midblock buildings will be smaller in scale than those on the avenues. On the north side of 18th Street east of 10th Avenue, Madison Equities plans a 12-story residential structure, with gallery configurations at ground level.

Adjacent to the Kitchen on the south side of 19th Street, Bishop's Court Realty is to begin construction next month on an 11-story residential building designed by the architect Annabelle Seldorf. It will replace a three-story vacant warehouse, according to John Jacobson, a partner in the company.

The Jean Nouvel building being built by Alf Naman, in partnership with Cape Advisors, is to be at 11th Avenue and 19th Street, in place of a parking lot. A block away, Tamarkin Architects P.C. plans a 12-story condo tower on the southeast corner of 10th Avenue and 19th Street, once the site of a driving school.

On 21st Street, the General Theological Seminary has proposed a 17-story residential tower on Ninth Avenue, at the east side of its historic campus, which occupies the entire block.

At 23rd Street and 10th Avenue, the developer Leviev Boymelgreen is to break ground next spring on a residential tower with retail stores at street level, where a gasoline station once stood. On the north side of 23rd Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues, Alf Naman is to build a 12-story apartment building, behind which, on 24th Street, there will be two small galleries and a retail complex. Alf Naman is also planning a 12-story residential building on the north side of 24th Street and west of 10th Avenue.

Developers are reluctant to speculate on prices for new residential buildings, none of which will open before 2007. Recent sales of new apartments in the area include $2.7 million for a triplex penthouse in the Chelsea Club, on West 19th Street near 10th Avenue, and $3.65 million for one of four penthouses at the 14-story Vesta 24, nearing completion on 10th Avenue near 24th Street.

Demand for new apartments in the neighborhood will not be a problem if the Vesta 24 is any indication. "All the two-bedroom apartments sold out within 36 hours," said Jim Brawders, senior vice president for the Corcoran Group. When the sales occurred a year ago, prices on a two-bedroom ranged from $1.1 million to $1.4 million.

On West 25th Street close to 11th Avenue, floors of the Chelsea Arts Tower, a 20-story commercial condo tower under construction, have been selling for $750 to $1,200 a square foot, or an average of $3 million, according to Stuart Siegel, managing director of Grubb & Ellis, which is marketing the building. Designed to house galleries and private collections, the 75,000-square-foot structure will open in August.

Area rents will probably be higher than in the adjacent Chelsea historic district, but they are also hard to predict. At the Tate, a rental building with two towers on 23rd Street that was built by Related and opened in late 2001, rents range from $2,300 for a studio to $6,500 for a two-bedroom, two-bath unit with a terrace, according to Mr. Wine.

Sites for the affordable-housing units have not yet been determined but will be designed for a broad swath of working people, not just the poorest of the poor, according to Lee Compton, chairman of Community Board 4. Chelsea has historically been a working-class area, but hurtling gentrification over the last two decades has forced many of those people out and isolated those who remain, particularly in places like the Fulton Houses, the 944-unit public housing project on Ninth Avenue between 16th and 19th Streets.

"We were a blue-collar neighborhood where people had lived for 40 or 50 years," Mr. Compton said. "We wanted to preserve the opportunity for them and their children to stay in the community. We didn't want it to become completely gentrified."

Del Posto will be the latest arrival on a restaurant row that includes established hot spots like Florent, Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Spice Market, La Luncheonette, the Red Cat and Bottino. There are also the other newcomers: Cookshop, the Korean-infused D'or Ahn, and Stephen Starr's Buddakan, as well as Craftsteak and Mr. Morimoto's restaurant when they open.

Add that lineup to the stellar roster of top-tier architects, a hip hotel, design museum, Hudson River Park, Chelsea Piers and the High Line itself, and what is emerging is a strangely organic yet somewhat self-consciously cutting-edge neighborhood where just about everything passes the style test. If that is the goal, it appears to be succeeding in ways no one ever imagined.

"It makes the city young, attractive and exciting and it will bring people to New York to visit, to work and to look at it," said Amanda M. Burden, commissioner of the Department of City Planning. "It puts us on the world stage in a whole new way."

The high-profile architects are a big part of that. It is something the art galleries and the reinvented High Line, with its $130 million price tag, laid the groundwork for, according to Joseph Rose, partner in the Georgetown Company and a former planning commissioner. "The art world has brought a sensibility that creates a context where the commitment to first-class architecture is not something that's alien," Mr. Rose said. "This is clearly a recognition on the part of the private sector that there is value in being open to and investing in architectural quality."

If clubs in the area - and there are many, like Bungalow 8, Spirit, Glass, Crobar and Marquee - become casualties of development, many area residents won't miss the chaos of late-night traffic and noise. Gallery owners worry about the same fate, and whether they will eventually have to move out of Chelsea the way many moved from SoHo as real estate prices soared.

Magda Sawon, the owner of the 20-year-old Postmasters Gallery on 10th Avenue, migrated to Chelsea from SoHo eight years ago and was in the East Village before that. She views 5,000 high-income newcomers as potential art viewers and art shoppers but worries about the effect increasing costs will have on the rent galleries pay.

"The radical work which guides art and makes it progress will get priced out," she said.

Frank Maresca, a partner in the 27-year-old Ricco/Maresca Gallery, which also started in SoHo, said it is hard to imagine people buying in Chelsea and not being influenced by the gallery scene or wanting to support it. But he acknowledged that the vitality of the Chelsea art community is impossible to predict.

"Right now, the art market is hot, but art is of the moment and when the moment is over, it won't be there," he said. "If you want to know the future, just look at the past."

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