BY YANNIC RACK | The Meatpacking District might soon get a significant makeover, if plans to demolish and redevelop a row of its historic low-rise market buildings on Gansevoort St. are given the go-ahead.
William Gottlieb Real Estate, which owns the one- and two-story brick buildings on the south side of the street, recently filed plans with the Department of Buildings to replace some of the structures with an eight-story tower and build additional floors on top of the others.
But the company, which is partnering on the project with Aurora Capital Associates, is facing opposition from residents and preservationists who want the iconic Meat Market buildings left intact.
The Real Deal first reported on the plans in June, writing that the nine buildings, stretching from 46 to 74 Gansevoort St. — the whole south side of the street, between Greenwich and Washington Sts. — were to be renovated and converted into three main lots comprising almost 111,000 square feet of commercial space.
Martin McLaughlin, a spokesperson for Gottlieb, which is one of the largest owners of property in the West Village, confirmed the redevelopment plans on Tuesday.
According to McLaughlin, the proposal calls for the demolition of Nos. 50 and 70-74 Gansevoort St., with a new eight-story building replacing Nos. 70-74, at the western end of the block, as well as three- and four-story additions to the row of two-story buildings at 60-68 Gansevoort St.
But it is unclear whether the Landmarks Preservation Commission would allow any changes to the buildings, since all of them are located within the Gansevoort Market Historic District, which was designated in 2003.
“This new proposal is really a bridge too far,” said Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.
While there have been numerous changes and new developments allowed in the district since its designation, Berman and other local activists think that this would be far and away the most dramatic.
“It would seem to almost obviate the notion of this being in a historic district at all,” he said.
Since the buildings on Gansevoort St. are not in “pristine condition,” Berman fears that L.P.C. might green-light the plans, arguing that the buildings’ use has evolved over time and that continued evolution is acceptable.
“Our fear is that they will actually take this proposal seriously and approve it, or just a slightly modified version, like they did in the case of the Pastis building,” he added. He was referring to the glass structure that is being added atop 9-19 Ninth Ave., the building that once housed Keith McNally’s popular French bistro, which is set to reopen on Gansevoort St. next year.
McLaughlin said they have not decided on a use for the buildings yet, and he remained vague when pressed about the future character of the street.
“There a number of permitted uses we can use on that site. We can use it as a gallery space and a number of other permitted uses,” he said. He added that residential and other types of commercial use, such as office space, could all be in the mix.
The D.O.B. application, filed in June, is for the renovation work, change of use — from commercial to business — and the combining of 60-74 Gansevoort St.
This would create the three lots on the site: one comprising Nos. 46-50 on the block’s eastern end and one spanning Nos. 60-74 on its western end, with the existing Gansevoort Market food hall in the middle.
The area’s current zoning allows a range of options, such as offices and hotels, as well as light manufacturing — a zoning use that remains from when meatpackers worked in the buildings.
Current zoning would not, however, allow for any residential use. The only residential units now allowed in the Meatpacking District are those that were previously grandfathered in when the city’s zoning was put into place decades ago.
A restrictive declaration is also in place on this street, which means that the buildings can only be used for certain kinds of retail uses, according to Berman.
Overturning the restrictive declaration, which some residents believe is being planned, would require a lengthy review process by the City Council and the City Planning Commission.
Although no formal application has been filed with L.P.C. yet, representatives for Gottlieb have been in talks with the commission, and they seem certain that construction will begin later this year. McLaughlin said they plan to start work on the project within the next six months.
Danny Rooney, who works for Goldcrest, a post-production company located around the corner at 799 Washington St., said the company received a letter last month notifying them of the coming construction on Gansevoort St.
And according to Thomas Hassler, who works for the Rapha Cycle Club on Gansevoort St., workers arrived a few weeks ago to drill for bedrock samples on the sidewalk in front of the buildings.
“I rolled up to the store one morning and there were these massive drilling derricks. At 8 in the morning, they just started hammering pipes into the ground,” he said, adding that the work went on for two weeks.
“It was a pain in the ass because you’d be walking down the street and they’d have half the sidewalk blocked with these machines,” he said. “There was slew and sludge all over the street, coming out of the ground.”
Rapha, at 46 Gansevoort St., is one of the last businesses still operating inside the row of buildings that Gottlieb wants to develop.
Hassler said their two-year lease is up at the end of this year and that he didn’t know what the owner planned to do with the space once they were gone.
Apart from a temporary pop-up, the only other recent tenant in the buildings comprising the future western lot was a clothing store that occupied the corner, at 809 Washington St., for three and a half years.
Now, the windows there are covered up and a notice is affixed on the door, announcing a re-launch in 2016.
“It’s strange because a lot of the stores down here have just been intentionally vacant,” said Hassler, adding that the redevelopment plans had probably been drawn up a while ago.
“I think they did that knowing that they were going to renovate,” he said.
In a follow-up phone interview, McLaughlin, the Gottlieb spokesperson, said that no plans have been made for the rest of the buildings on the street.
Although he confirmed that 50 Gansevoort St. is slated for demolition, it was not immediately clear what would replace the building, which currently still houses The Griffin, a cocktail lounge.
Also on the block’s eastern end is Macelleria, an Italian steakhouse, at 48 Gansevoort St. The owners there were not available to respond to rumors that the restaurant was moving to a different location.
But the manager, Katie Martinez, on Tuesday said that they have signed a lease and obtained a liquor license for a different space within the Meatpacking District.
“We’re continuing our relationship with our current landlord,” she said.
In addition to the uncertainty of the block’s uses in the future, residents are worried enough about the prospect of seeing an eight-story building rise up on the street.
“We’re concerned. A lot of it was about the low-scale buildings,” said Elaine Young, referring to the designation of the Gansevoort Historic District. Young lives just south of the Meat Market and is a member of Community Board 2.
The development would raise the skyline to almost four times its current height. The eight-story “tower” replacing 70-74 Gansevoort St. would be 111 feet high, according to the D.O.B. filing; currently, the highest buildings on the street reach a mere 27 feet.
“It’s dramatically out of scale,” Young stated. “We’re used to air and light and we’ve spent a lot of energy trying to get the area landmarked. And now these guys come along and just try to smash it to bits. This isn’t right, it’s offensive.”
“It’s not just changing one building, it’s going to radically alter the streetscape,” added Clora Kelly, who lives on W. 11th St. and is part of the Save Gansevoort group that is campaigning against the proposal.
The group set up a Web site this week and has also started an online petition.
Zack Winestine, who is the co-chairperson of the Greenwich Village Community Task Force and lives on Horatio St., is also part of the effort.
He said that Gottlieb representatives originally planned to meet with residents to lay out their plans last month, but then canceled with only two hours’ notice.
The meeting hasn’t been rescheduled yet, but Winestine expects it to take place some time in August.
“There’s going to be widespread opposition, because this is a cherished street,” Kelly said. “We’re getting ready.”