As Google Acquires Chelsea Market, a History of New York City’s Meatpacking District

Ever since we heard that Google would be buying Chelsea Market in New York’s Meatpacking District for at least $2.4 billion, there has been so much written about the neighborhood, the massive complex, and their respective histories. As one of the former owners of the famous building, which hosts companies like Food Network, MLB.com, Oxygen and more, I wanted to provide some unreported insights into the building’s history.  The story of how it went from what it was to where it is today, the neighborhood’s history and its transformation into the hip and trendy place it has become, is fascinating to say the least.

Located near the Hudson River, the borders of the neighborhood stretch from West 14th Street to the north; Ninth Avenue and Hudson Street to the east; Gansevoort Street to the south; and West Street and 11th Avenue to the west.

By 1900, the Meatpacking District, aptly named, was home to roughly 250 slaughterhouses and packing plants.  By the 20s, the neighborhood began to diversify with other industries moving in, including cigar-making shops, auto repair shops, and cosmetics shops, among many others. One major company to set up shop in the neighborhood, and more specifically in what we now call Chelsea Market, was the National Biscuit Company, now known as Nabisco. The company famously invented one of America’s favorite cookies, the Oreo, at the factory in 1912 (they left the facility in 1959 for a bigger property outside of New York City.)

In 1929, the neighborhood was given another upgrade. As part of the West Side Improvement Plan, New York City, New York State, and New York Central agreed to build the West Side Elevated Highway, (now, the High Line), for $150,000,000 (today that number would be about $2,137,791,000.)

The 1980s is when the district really began to decline. Much of its industrial activity slowed, making way for a rise in drugs and prostitution. The area even became famous for its seedy subculture.

Things turned around for the Meatpacking District in the early 1990’s, when it began its major transformation into what it is today. I partnered up with a small team, including Irwin Cohen, to form Around the Clock Management (ATC), and took a seemingly worthless and neglected 3.6 million square foot space and turned it into a newly rehabilitated trendy space that includes the 1.5 million square foot Chelsea Market. The project is said to have sparked the conversion of the neighborhood from a worn industrial enclave into one of the city’s most desired neighborhoods.

In addition to the newly transformed Chelsea Market, high-end boutiques targeting young professionals and hipsters opened, including Alexander McQueen, Theory, Diane von Fürstenberg, Christian Louboutin, Stella McCartney, and even an Apple Store. Restaurants and nightclubs started moving in by the dozens, as well. New York Magazine even went as far as to call the Meatpacking District “New York’s most fashionable neighborhood” in a 2004 article.

But efforts to revitalize the neighborhood didn’t end with Chelsea Market. In 2001, I partnered with the Achenbaum family as the principal developer of the Gansevoort Hotel, also in the Meatpacking District, which opened its doors in 2004. With both Chelsea Market and the Gansevoort Hotel complete, our improvements were core parts of the forces that changed the area into an international fashion, dining, and nightlife destination.

In 2009, the neighborhood began to see even more revitalization, with the renaissance of the High Line, the 1.45-mile-long park, created by landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations. The above-ground park runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District through Chelsea and attracts millions of visitors year-round.

Google’s decision to buy the historic building further highlights the historic neighborhood’s ongoing transformation, and the city’s overall transformation into a major tech hub. While most tech companies have long since established their headquarters in Silicon Valley, there has been a recent push by some of the biggest companies to establish a major presence in New York, too, including Amazon, Facebook and Spotify.

While Google isn’t officially the new owner yet – closing should take place next month, it isn’t hard to see why the tech-giant would want to be there. Chelsea Market and the Meatpacking District have undergone tremendous transformations over the last century, and with Google being one of the most disruptive and transformative companies in the world, it seems like the perfect synergy. It’s an exciting time to for tech and real estate industry in the City. As innovative companies continue to find homes here, our city continues to evolve into a tech-hub. I look forward to seeing what the next few years bring.


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