Chelsea has changed in astronomical ways since the mid 1990s. Back then, it was a desolate dark neighborhood. I know many people who got robbed walking down the street at night, heading to Florent after going to the clubs, Jackie 60, Hogs & Heifers, Sound Factory, etc. you couldn’t even find a cab. In the daytime it was all meat markets around 14th street.
In the late 90s things shifted. 1995 the sporting complex at Chelsea Piers opened on the West Side Highway, great quality but empty, few would travel that far for a gym. In 1997 Chelsea Market opened, it had been bought by developers out of foreclosure for $10 million. They had retail space, bakeries, vegetable, food, and fish stores, but it was not a hit right away. It was the middle of nowhere. A lot of storefronts were empty. The office space went for nothing.
Pastis opened in 1999, a very cool bistro type restaurant just south of 14th Street, McNally the restaurateur made the neighborhood. He had done the same thing with Balthazar in SoHo in 1997, before then the streets west of Broadway were worthless. People came from uptown to have brunch, it made the neighborhood legitimate. Art galleries moved in to the large spaces near the West Side Highway between 14th Street and 34th Street.
In 2003, The Meatpacking location of SoHo House, a London members club followed. Back then memberships cost $700 a year and they were begging people to join. An early residential building to capitalize on Chelsea was the Lions Head building on 19th and 7th. When it was converted in 2005, there were lines around the block, the inventory sold out immediately. 2006, the Caledonia apartment tower was built, which included an Equinox gym in the lobby. It was across from the housing projects, but still sold well. Then the Apple Store launched on 14th Street in 2007.
The revolutionary turn was when the first section of the High Line walking park opened in 2009. Residential buildings went up like crazy around it. 10th Avenue was hardly a mainstream residential neighborhood before that. There was a state womens’ prison on 20th Street and 11th Avenue across from the Jean Nouvel building that was still in use until 2012.
Now with Google buying the Chelsea Market building at 75 Ninth Avenue for $2.4 billion, Chelsea keeps moving up. Tech companies left New York in the 1990s looking for cheap rent. Now they have more money than they know what to do with, and they want to recruit the best global business minds. Chelsea offers a cool look and history, they are not interested in a tower in Midtown. With Google in Chelsea, and the Hudson Yards set to open in the next few years, 10th Avenue is no longer the middle of nowhere.