Art Groups Preserve Chelsea by Buying, Not Renting

It is an all-too-familiar pattern in many communities: artists discover an inexpensive, underdeveloped neighborhood and move in, only to be ousted from the area by soaring retail rents once it catches on in popularity.

Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

About half of the units in the Chelsea Arts Tower on West 25th Street are art galleries. The rest of the building’s units are devoted to fashion- and arts-related businesses.

Many argue that it happened in Greenwich Village, and most point to SoHo as the quintessential example of the phenomenon. Now, the same pattern may be occurring in Chelsea, where an explosion of residential development along the High Line is attracting retailers serving new residents — retailers who are now competing for space with the hundreds of art galleries that are the backbone of the neighborhood.

But some real estate experts say Chelsea’s fate may be different, because a healthy number of the neighborhood’s arts businesses had the foresight to buy their gallery and studio spaces, rather than lease them.

“The difference between SoHo and Chelsea is that so many artists, or even art companies or art investors, bought condos in Chelsea, so they actually made investments as opposed to leasing,” said Barbara Byrne Denham, the chief economist at Eastern Consolidated, a commercial real estate brokerage.

“I think that will preserve their spaces, and the flavor of Chelsea as kind of an art mecca,” she said.

Ms. Byrne Denham said there could be as many as 350 art galleries in Chelsea. Enough of them own their space that in a recent report on the commercial property sales market in Chelsea, Ms. Byrne Denham said, “we had to separate them as their own property type.”

“I said, ‘There’s something in this that really stands out: the fact that so many properties sold as art studios, art condos and art buildings,’ ” she said.

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