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Preservationists blast revamp of Chelsea’s Terminal Warehouse

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Plans to renovate the historic structure include adding office spaces and an interior open-air courtyard

A brick warehouse sits in the corner of a Chelsea street. Renderings: Courtesy of COOKFOX/Landmarks Preservation Commission

Last month, developers announced plans to transform West Chelsea’s historic Terminal Warehouse to add more office and commercial space. But at a Tuesday Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) hearing on the plan, some preservationists and neighbors expressed their concerns about the project.

The proposal, developed by L&L Holding and Normandy Real Estate Partners and designed by COOKFOX, aims to convert part of the industrial warehouse into an office building with an interior courtyard and ground-floor retail, all while restoring its historic features. Proposed modifications would bring as much light and air as possible to the center of the building, given that the enclosed structure was historically used for storage rather than a workplace.

But several aspects of the plan were nitpicked by members of the community and preservationists, including the removal of timber from the center of the building in order to build the courtyard; the replacement of the building’s multi-pane, arched windows; and additions like a four- and six-story glass and steel structure on the west end of the building.

The top glass floors of a brick warehouse.
One of the visible additions to the building.

Andrea Goldwyn, from the New York Landmarks Conservancy, said that while the group approved of the relocation of some floor area from the center of the building, the group is concerned about some of the floor additions, which are “too visible and can distract from the landmark.” Goldwyn suggested reducing the height and bulk of those new elements.

The Historic Districts Council (HDC) also expressed its concern over the courtyard plans. “HDC is concerned about the serious surgery [Terminal Warehouse] is facing and the growing trend of scooping out the insides of old buildings,” said Brittany Thomas, the group’s manager of preservation and research. “We ask that the commission think about the intact 19th century construction methods and substantial historic fabric that will be discarded for glass curtain walls, and evaluate how much removal is fair to the historic building.”

An interior courtyard with several trees.
The proposed interior open-air courtyard.

Members of Manhattan’s Community Board 4 voted to approve the proposal earlier this month but with specific conditions. “The board welcomes and generally supports the applicant’s plan to restore the Terminal Warehouse building and convert it into a modern office and retail building,” a letter on the board’s resolution reads. “We believe, however, that the current proposal sacrifices too many of the building’s historic features.”

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer submitted testimony in support of the project, but also echoed the community board’s conditions.

“I am pleased that the applicant’s plans include preservation and restoration of some of the building’s most attractive historical elements, including the window shutters, remarkable timber columns, and even the rail tracks that transverse the building’s interior,” Brewer said in a letter to LPC. “Some of the recommendations made by Community Board 4 would further enhance the building’s appearance.”

Organizations that have also expressed their support include Hudson River Park Friends and the New York Building Congress.

The massive 1.2-million-square-foot Terminal Warehouse—which sits between Eleventh and Twelfth avenues and West 27th and 28th streets—was first owned by the New York Terminal Warehouse Company and built between 1890 and 1891. The building, which sits within West Chelsea historic district, once played a vital role in goods entering and leaving NYC as it served as a tunnel passage with twin rail tracks running across the building, connecting the Hudson River’s docks to the freight line along Eleventh Avenue.

LPC commissioners will comment on the proposal in an upcoming hearing next month.