Deadwood: Plans for SHoP’s Chelsea wooden tower scrapped

Ownership team dissolves partnership at 475 West 18th Street

475 West 18th Street (Credit: SHoP Architects)
475 West 18th Street (Credit: SHoP Architects)

Talk about logging off.

After much fanfare about the potential future of wooden high-rises, developers have scrapped plans to build the city’s tallest wooden condominium tower in Chelsea, The Real Deal has learned.

The developer, Sy Ghassemi, confirmed on Friday that he’s not moving forward with the wooden condo building that SHoP [TRDataCustom] designed for 475 West 18th Street. The proposed project, which was awarded $1.5 million from the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in 2015 for research and development, would’ve been the first of its kind — a 10-story building constructed of mass timber, a material that consists of dense panels of wood.

Ghassemi blamed the downturn in the market for the change of plans. Appetite among lenders for new condominium projects is waning in the city (not to mention that using wooden materials would require a change in city law. Current regulations don’t allow wooden towers to exceed six stories).

“The project just wasn’t feasible,” he said.

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Still, SHoP hopes to use the mass timber on a future project.

“While we had hoped the Chelsea project would move forward, we remain enthusiastic about mass timber technology and continue to evolve the technology through other potential opportunities,” a spokesperson for SHoP said in a statement.

Ghassemi purchased the property from his partners on the project — William and Nancy Stone — in November for $10.6 million. Ghassemi had provided at least $1.8 million of preferred equity for the project’s joint venture, 130-134 Holdings LLC, before the sale. The Stones have owned 475 West 18th StreetAlso Known As 130 10th Avenue — since 1979. The four-story building was home to La Luncheonette for 30 years, before the restaurant closed in December 2015. Spiritos Properties was also supposed to work on the development project, though sources said it did not have an ownership stake.

Mass timber is a somewhat controversial building material because people still tend to think “fire!” when broaching the topic of wooden buildings. (Lest we forget the Great Fire of 1835, which tore through wooden structures in Lower Manhattan.) Proponents argue that the material has built-in fire protection, since its density causes it to char in the same manner as a slow-burning log on a fire. The material is also touted as environmentally friendly and psychologically pleasing (humans enjoy feeling connected to nature, apparently).

Though the Chelsea project isn’t moving forward, wooden towers are rising in other parts of the world. The University of British Columbia is building what is being billed as the world’s tallest wooden building at 173 feet tall.