Volume 74, Number 8 | June 23 - 29, 2004



New developer says Market hotel won’t be as tall

By Albert Amateau

Andre Balazs, the hotelier who plans to build a hotel just west of the Gansevoort Market Historic District where the High Line begins, said last week that his project is “a perfect fit” for the district where meat wholesalers, nightlife establishments, retailers and art galleries co-exists.

“It will be completely as of right [meaning no special permits or zoning variances are needed] and not nearly as tall as 32 stories,” Balazs said, speaking last week to The Villager, which first reported the story. However, he said it was too soon to say how high the building would rise or when construction might start. He said it was also too early to say how the High Line would fit into his project.

“It’s clear the High Line is one of the great features of the neighborhood. I love the Meat Market. It’s an area that has a special charm and I hope it stays that way as long as possible,” he said.

But Meat Market owners and workers say that any kind of residence, even a moderate-priced hotel that Balazs hopes will appeal to young transients, is a threat to the delicate balance of the area.

“Right now we have a phenomenal neighborhood,” said Bob Wilkins, a partner in Lamb Unlimited at 837 Washington St., across from the Balazs property at 848 Washington St. “It’s a three-tiered system. Between 10 a.m. and noon, retail store and restaurants open and go on until evening. When the restaurants close, the clubs open up and when the clubs close at 4 a.m., the meat industry opens,” explained Wilkins.

“It can’t work with residential no matter what it’s called, hotel or what,” said Wilkins who has been in the meat business in the Market for 33 years.

Ray DeStefano, who works at Walmir Meats at 839 Washington St. and is the steward of Local 342 representing employees in the Market, said a high-rise across the street would kill the Market where hundreds of union members earn their living.

There are slightly more than 25 companies left in the district where there were as many as 150 at the Market’s high point in the 1950s, and about 800 employees left compared to 2,000 from 50 years ago.

“We’d still lose a lot of jobs if there’s a million-dollar high-rise across the street,” said DeStefano, “and we’ll do whatever we have to — picket every day — to keep our jobs here a little longer.”

DeStefano said he was personally disappointed that Jerry Romanoff, the owner of 848 Washington St., sold the property to Balazs. “I know him and I knew his father,” said DeStefano. “His father never would have done this. You make your money in the meat business, you should keep it in the family,” he added.

But for the past two years, Romanoff had a contract to sell 848 Washington St. to Stephen Touhey, a developer who proposed to build a 32-story residential tower and two smaller buildings designed by Jean Nouvel, a prominent French architect. The Nouvel tower would have incorporated the High Line, the derelict rail viaduct that bisects the property.

But the city denied a zoning variance to allow residential use in the manufacturing zone, so Touhey limited his plan to the single tower to be used as a hotel, which is allowed as of right in a manufacturing zone. He also won a subsequent ruling from the city that would have allowed the tower to be 51 percent transient hotel and 49 percent residential, but preservationists were outraged and the ruling was reversed.

Balazs, a Soho resident whose high-end hotels include the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood and the Hotel Mercer in Soho, stepped into the picture in the spring and plans a hotel in his Standard chain of relatively moderate-priced hotels.

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