Chelsea’s former Maritime Union to be 316-room hotel

Unique construction plan of 1964 building created hardship. BSA approved the plan by Hampshire Hotels and Resorts to convert the 162,123-square-foot former National Maritime Union building, located along West 17th and West 16th Streets near Ninth Avenue in Chelsea, into a 316-room hotel. The existing building, built under a 1964 variance approval, most recently housed a transitional youth shelter run by the Covenant House.

Located on an odd-shaped, 11- sided lot, the existing building contains two separate wings: an 11- story wing along West 17th Street with a sloped facade, small circular windows and floor plates that narrow at each successive level, and a West 16th Street wing with five windowless floors that the union used for auditorium space. An additional complication is that the lot has two frontages along West 16th Street. Another property separates the lot’s five-story wing from its 25-foot wide, one-story garage.

Hampshire’s plan called for the partial demolition of the second through fifth stories of the windowless wing facing West 16th Street to provide courtyard space for the hotel. In addition, it would construct a twelfth story on the West 17th Street wing, a new sixth and seventh story on the West 16th Street wing and three stories over the small West 16th Street garage. Originally, Hampshire proposed a larger project with apartments as well as the hotel component, but it abandoned that project during the BSA approval process.

Hampshire’s hotel proposal triggered variances for use, height, setback and yards even though it decreased the total floor area of the Maritime Union building by over 11,000 sq.ft. In support of its proposal, Hampshire argued that the Maritime Union building was obsolete and unusable for as-of-right residential and community facility uses. Without windows along West 16th and with large, full-block floor plates, the building provided little light and air. It could only house a use with large amounts of non-living space. The high cost to convert the building, including costs for windows, a new building skin and partial demolition for increased light and air, required an increase in the building’s height. Hampshire also argued that the narrow West 17th Street floor plates complicated a conversion of the building to residential units.

Hampshire submitted several feasibility studies, including a residential and community facility project and a hotel project without any increase in the building’s height. Both proved infeasible due to the significant conversion costs.

BSA found that the building and lot created a hardship. It granted the variances, finding the additional height along both streets to be compatible with adjacent buildings. BSA restricted retail use on the site to 10,000 sq.ft., and the total height along West 17th Street to 151 feet and to 97.5 feet above the West 16th Street wing. The approval also included Community Board 4’s recommendations for a traffic attendant and prohibited a night club within the hotel.

BSA: 346 West 17th Street (43-07-BZ) (July 24, 2007) (Paul Selver, for Hampshire). CITYADMIN

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