Construction Problems Persist as Chelsea Hotel Eyes Early 2019 Opening

Construction is underway at the Chelsea Hotel for an early 2019 reopening. | Photo by Rita Barros

BY RANIA RICHARDSON | The saga of the Chelsea Hotel (222 W. 23rd St., btw. Seventh & Eighth Aves.) continues as SIR Chelsea LLC, owner since 2016, progresses with a transformation that began after a decade-long checkered history of revolving ownership and tenant battles. The group of buyers, Sean MacPherson, Ira Drukier, and Richard Born, whose first names comprise the acronym SIR, are established boutique hotel developers and operators with a portfolio of properties such as the Bowery, Ludlow, and Maritime Hotels.

Built in the 1880s, the Chelsea Hotel is known for the numerous cultural icons who lived in its atmosphere of creativity and bohemian values, as well as those who immortalized the location in their work. Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey directed “Chelsea Girls,” inspired by the building’s artistic milieu. Warhol muse Viva raised daughter Gaby Hoffman (star of “Transparent”) in the hotel and recounted an abortion in her brief memoir “Leaving the Chelsea with Egg.” Steven Meisel shot Madonna in Room 822 for her book, “Sex.”

Current residents of artistic significance include Chelsea Now arts contributor Gerald Busby (composer of the Robert Altman film “3 Women”) and Ed Hamilton, whose written works include “Legends of the Chelsea Hotel: Living with Artists and Outlaws in New York’s Rebel Mecca” as well as his 2017 debut novel, “Lords of the Schoolyard.”

In August 2011, the landmarked hotel closed its doors to new guests.

Currently in the midst of renovation, the new Chelsea Hotel is expected to open in early 2019 and will consist of 125 to 130 rooms, according to Born in a telephone interview with Chelsea Now. He stated that this figure includes hotel rooms, 30 new one and two-bedroom furnished rentals at market rate with access to hotel services, and the 50 apartments for current tenants who are protected by New York City Rent Stabilization Law (RSL). Upon vacancy, NYC Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) regulations will be followed for renovation and rent increases. There will be no condominiums as previously reported.

The first floor will feature a restaurant, lobby lounge, greenhouse, and private event space. The upgrade calls for a basement restaurant and rooftop gym and spa, as well. Art on the walls, a hallmark of the hotel, will once again decorate the location.

A leak appeared on the fire escape staircase on Feb. 11, migrating down five flights. | Photo by Rita Barros

With plans for so much activity, tenants are concerned about quality of life and safety issues after the changes. Some of these residents attended Feb. 7’s full board meeting of Community Board 4 (CB4) to give input on the initial liquor license application for the Chelsea Hotel that CB4’s Business Licenses & Permits (BLP) committee on Jan. 9 had voted to recommend for approval. The early version of the application stipulated that there would be no rooftop bar and no alcohol sold in outdoor spaces.

Additional restrictions were added following comments provided at the full board meeting. Born, who attended the meeting to represent the hotel, gave remarks and agreed to the updated license application, which the full board then voted to recommend for approval. The new stipulations included noise controls such as limiting live music to the event space on the first floor, prohibiting music on outdoor portions of the roof, and enclosing and soundproofing the greenhouse.

CB4 BLP Co-Chair Frank Holozubiec wrote in an email, “For 90% of the license applications presented to us, we and the applicant reach agreement on stipulations regarding the applicant’s method of operation. We include those stipulations as the conditions for our recommendation to the State Liquor Authority, and, in most of our cases, the State Liquor Authority makes the stipulations part of the license.”

Rita Barros moved into the Chelsea Hotel in 1984 and is one of the current tenants. A professional photographer who exhibits around the world, she has found inspiration at the hotel for several photo books. Barros spoke at CB4’s full board meeting in reference to the liquor application and accepts the final recommendations by BLP, generally speaking. She does have other areas of concern that she brought up at the meeting, regarding the dust and noise from ongoing construction on the 10th floor, as well as a leak that has been in existence for six years, pre-dating the current owner.

“We are in 2018 and we are still plagued with this issue, which is right in front of my door as I exit my apartment,” she wrote in an email. “When they started working on the new fire escape staircase they opened the ceiling and that created the leaks.” Water from rainfall moves down five flights as illustrated by a recent video from Barros that winds through the area. When she calls 311 to make a complaint, their representatives show up days later, usually when all is dry. When they do see water flooding the corridor, they write a violation. “There are numerous violations at this point,” she wrote.

According to Born, there are obstacles in fixing the leak and work is moving as quickly as possible. “We don’t want a leak!” he said.

CB4 District Manager Jesse Bodine visited the Chelsea Hotel on Feb. 16 to observe the situation in person. He met with some of the residents of the 10th floor and took a quick tour of some of the units, the hallway, and the roof. CB4 will continue to pursue solutions along with the office of City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

At right, a garbage can collects water as part of a makeshift system to control the leak on the 10th floor. | Photo by Rita Barros

At the Feb. CB4 full board meeting, Rita Barros (with mic) and other tenants (standing, left) provided input on the work and plans for the Chelsea Hotel. | Photo by Rania Richardson

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