Realtors Look to Rename Hell’s Kitchen-Clinton as “Chelsea North”



The corner of Ninth Avenue and West 39th Street is part of the Hell’s Kitchen-Clinton neighborhood that would be subject to being renamed “Chelsea North.” Photo: Annie Zak.

Realtors in the Hell’s Kitchen-Clinton neighborhood are talking about renaming the area between West 34th and 42nd Streets, from Eighth Avenue to the Hudson River, as “Chelsea North,” and some community members are concerned about the neighborhood undergoing an identity change.

“They’re going to run into enormous amounts of community opposition to that because it’s called Hell’s Kitchen and Clinton,” said Lee Compton, a Midtown West resident and member of the Clinton-Hell’s Kitchen Land Use Committee of Community Board Four. Still, he hardly expects proponents to back down, given the profitability of the proposed name. “[The name] ‘Chelsea’ has cachet,” he said.

Both the Department of City Planning (DCP) and Community Board Four said there is no official process to name or rename an area in the city, though they take their cue from common usage. “There are a lot of reasons neighborhood names catch on, none of them official,” said DCP Press Secretary Rachaele Raynoff. “There’s lots of reasons neighborhood names change and evolve.” If a neighborhood name is common vocabulary in the city, resources like DCP and other city offices will label maps with those names.

Jason Saft, a senior sales associate and licensed real estate salesperson at Citi Habitats, said it’s too early to tell if the rebranding will happen. If developers do back the decision to change the name, he doesn’t think it will be until the development of Hudson Yards is under way (according to “Bloomberg Businessweek,” the second phase of construction will begin by mid-2013). He also doesn’t know of any one group spearheading the change.

“I think it’s a little nebulous at this point,” he said. “In my sense, I feel like it’s all going to end up being called Hudson Yards.” He also said that from a real estate perspective, the neighborhood in question lacks the strong sense of identity that others, like Chelsea, have built.

“Over the last decade, it has transformed and really become a destination for people,” said Saft of Hell’s Kitchen-Clinton. “I think for a lot of people, the association is sort of the mystique of ‘West Side Story,’ in that it used to be a dangerous neighborhood and it was scary and off-limits.” He said that when Chelsea became a more expensive neighborhood, a lot of people migrated north, and Hell’s Kitchen-Clinton is now a more popular place to live, with access to things like Central Park and the theater district. “There’s definitely a certain liveliness to the area. It’s definitely dynamic and interesting.”

Melissa Coley is vice-president of investor relations and communications at Brookfield Office Properties, a real estate group with a stake in the neighborhood at Manhattan West, its mixed-use development project at West 33rd Street and Ninth Avenue. She said that while the idea of renaming the area Chelsea North was brought up at a meeting between Brookfield, some Community Board Four members, and other groups she wouldn’t disclose, “We weren’t advocating one way or the other.”

“If it doesn’t become official,” said Saft, “it could just be something that’s in everyone’s natural vocabulary.”

Howard Smith has been living on West 43rd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues since 1967, and was a member of the community board for 10 years. He said the idea of changing the identity of yet another part of Midtown West is just another continuation of the gentrification that has been going on in the area for years. He’s not a fan of the suggested name change.

“I think it’s ironic that the realtors would consider trying to change that,” said Smith. “It’s certainly not something that I would find exciting. I still don’t really accept the concept of … Hudson Yards. It’s what many of us call the boulevard to nowhere,” referring to the rail yard development project in its entirety.

He said the move to rename his home turf is definitely based on marketing.

“The only possible reason they’d want to do it is for marketing,” said Smith. “If you’re dealing with someone new to the New York market looking to buy property, maybe they look for a new name.”

Smith said that many in his neighborhood think of Ninth Avenue as their traditional Main Street. He worries about developers’ changes taking away some aspect of that feeling.

In the 45 years Smith has lived in the neighborhood, he said, “It’s turned into a great part of town.”