Art galleries stay put in Chelsea, thanks to good foresight

July 13, 2011 09:08AM

Chelsea may not succumb to the all-too-familiar pattern of artists being ousted from developing neighborhoods, because a significant number of the neighborhood’s arts businesses were smart enough to buy their gallery and studio spaces, rather than lease them, the New York Times reported.

“The difference between Soho and Chelsea is that so many artists, or even art companies or art investors, bought condos in Chelsea, so they actually made investments as opposed to leasing,” said Barbara Byrne Denham, chief economist at Eastern Consolidated. “I think that will preserve their spaces, and the flavor of Chelsea as kind of an art mecca,” she said.

“We bought the building to be sure the museum could stay,” said Dorothea Keeser, president of the Chelsea Art Museum, “How would people find us if we move to another part of New York?.. It already took years for the visitors to be accustomed to us in Chelsea.”

There are as many as 350 art galleries in Chelsea, Byrne Denham said, enough to warrant a section in a recent Chelsea commercial market report by Eastern Consolidated. “We had to separate them as their own property type,” she said.

In 2008, the sales volume in the Chelsea art market sector peaked at about $105 million, then slowed down with the recession, according to the report. Sales activity in arts-related properties picked up again in the second half of 2010.

Selling out to investors may not be so easy for Chelsea property owners. “It can be tempting to entertain those offers,” Denham said. “You might be able to sell for top dollar, but in order for the organization to stay in business, they also have to go out immediately and buy property, also frequently at top dollar.” [NYT]