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WSJ Article - Hell's Kitchen Bubbles

WSJ Article - Hell's Kitchen Bubbles


Hell's Kitchen Bubbles as Activity Escalates

Manhattan district is no longer a Bermuda Triangle for development

Aug. 22, 2013 10:43 p.m. ET

For decades, the nefarious nickname of Hell's Kitchen cast the neighborhood as a development Bermuda Triangle, bound by the more bankable Chelsea, Times Square and the Upper West Side.

But buzz about the area, otherwise known as Clinton or Midtown West, has become progressively more positive as development has marched up the bank of the Hudson River from the Meatpacking District through Chelsea and into Hell's Kitchen.

Clinton DeWitt Park in Hell's Kitchen with luxury residential building Mercedes House in the center background Mark Abramson for The Wall Street Journal

Now the district's southern edge is becoming home to the office, retail, residential and cultural spaces of Hudson Yards, the most radical rejigger of Midtown's skyline in almost half a century. To boot, the High Line has stretched north to the Hell's Kitchen border and an expansion and renovation of the Javits Center is set for completion at the end of this year.

The Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project covering 26 acres and creating 13.4 million square feet of space won't complete its $6 billion Phase I until 2017. But its first building—an 845-foot tower that will include the headquarters of leather-goods company Coach Inc. and a Fairway grocery, among other businesses—is scheduled to open in 2015.

West 52nd Street and Ninth Avenue Mark Abramson for The Wall Street Journal

If you're browsing for a home in Hell's Kitchen...

The construction using air rights from the West Side rail yard is a 21st-century version of the kind of megastructure project not seen in Manhattan at least since Battery Park City a generation ago or Rockefeller Center two generations earlier and that has been more common of late in London or Shanghai.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is also expanding West Side accessibility, extending the No. 7 line from Times Square to a new terminal at West 34th Street and 11th Avenue. The terminal will be a elliptical, landscaped design reminiscent of the old TWA terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport and will include the city's first-ever inclined elevator shaft. The extended service is scheduled to begin in June.

Luxury residences, including Mercedes House, Atelier and MiMA, have already opened in Hell's Kitchen and more are coming.

"It's almost like the Lower East Side 10 or 15 years ago, that rugged mix," said Sam DeFranceschi, a NestSeekers associate broker.

Interest in Hell's Kitchen is such that Mr. DeFranceschi said he listed an empty lot measuring about 24 by 100 feet on West 45th Street for $4 million in 2011 and received a flurry of bids, including a cash offer at the full asking price. But the owners decided instead to raise the price to $5.3 million. It remains unsold but Mr. DeFranceschi said he meets with prospective buyers weekly.

A major part of Hell's Kitchen's brisk gentrification has been a boom in its gay male population, said Gary Gates, a demographer at the University of California at Los Angeles who wrote "The Gay and Lesbian Atlas," which analyses Census Bureau figures on same-sex couples.

"Men feel safer moving into rough-and-ready neighborhoods and, because gay men are less likely to have children than lesbians, they tend to invest more in rapid property development," he said about the attraction of Hell's Kitchen. "We saw it with Chelsea, and the West Village before that."

Indeed, Chelsea, long a gay mecca, is now dominated more by upmarket art galleries, Google Inc.'s large New York office and other tech and media companies. Some gay bars in Chelsea have been closing, as Splash did in August after 22 years and Rawhide in March after 33 years.

Rudy's Bar & Grill Mark Abramson for The Wall Street Journal

U.S.S. Intrepid Mark Abramson for The Wall Street Journal

Conversely, Hell's Kitchen has been attracting gay bars during the past few years—from new institutions such as the mega-club XL or the cowboy-themed Flaming Saddles to satellites of Downtown mainstays like Boxers and Pieces.

"Hell's Kitchen is still high-low, still untouched a bit, fully neighborhoody, fully diverse," said Josh Wood, a co-owner of Atlas Social Club. The specialty cocktail gay bar with a vintage boxing-gym theme is set to open in mid-September on Ninth Avenue between West 50th and 51st streets.

Despite the influx, local haunts remain, including Pam's Real Thai and Rudy's Bar & Grill, where patrons sitting on duct-taped banquettes enjoy free hot dogs with their beers.

Cultural assets—including the Actors Studio, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Baryshnikov Arts Center and Theatre Row—have flourished. Manhattan Plaza, a huge federal residential project from the 1970s, still provides affordable housing to thousands of performing artists.

"You don't have to plan so hard with your friends when all your friends live a few blocks away," said Raj Karnik, 34 years old, an architect who often walks his brown toy poodle, Bacio, to a Hudson pier-top dog park between the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum and the Circle Line sightseeing ferry landing. "You bump into each other," Mr. Karnik added. "Or you show up in minutes. I have friends who have my apartment key so they can walk Bacio for me when I'm at work late."

The timing is preternatural, according to Mr. Gates, the demographer. "After Hell's Kitchen, the dominoes have nowhere to go. The Upper West Side is too established," he said. "But by the time Hell's Kitchen is 'done,' the city will likely be so culturally diffuse that new gay neighborhoods won't emerge any more than we'd expect a new Little Italy."

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