New Daytrippers

Meatpacking is buzzing thanks to Whitney, High Line and bold new office buildings

The High Line and Google building in Meatpacking
The High Line and Google building in Meatpacking

During the Meatpacking District’s “Sex and the City” days, fashionable women in high heels could be found clicking along the cobblestone streets. Now one is more likely to encounter tourists with maps or tech workers in hipster glasses.

The character of Greenwich Village’s neighbor to the west is evolving, thanks to daytrippers visiting the new Whitney Museum of American Art and the High Line. The area is also buzzing with office development, following Google’s pioneering move here. But as the neighborhood takes on a more commercial vibe, residents say its exclusive and edgy dynamic is fading — a lament echoed across the city today.

Cliff Meilman, a developer and property owner, witnessed the area’s first evolution from an industrial zone. “My family has been working in this area for 80 years,” he explained. “My grandfather pushed a meat cart along these cobblestones in the 30s.” When the meatpacking businesses closed shop, Meilman’s family repurposed industrial spaces that became art galleries and fashion boutiques.

Google bought its immense headquarters at 111 Eighth Avenue at the end of 2010 and the Whitney Museum opened its new location in May 2015. Now the area is expected to tilt further toward a commercial hub with a new influx of office buildings, including a major project on Gansevoort Street.

Residents like the calmer scene at night but worry development is “killing the area’s character.”

Other office buildings will likely bring new architectural vibrancy, such as the 12-story Solar Carve building on 14th Street and 10th Avenue. This futuristic, wedge-shaped building will include a whopping amount of retail space. And the four-story Morris Adjmi-designed building at 837 Washington is topped with a bold, slightly twisted glass and steel structure.

Big brands are also eyeing the neighborhood: Starbucks is hoping to seal a deal for a restaurant, café and lounge at 860 Washington Street. Restoration Hardware plans to move its flagship to 9-19 Ninth Avenue, as well as open a hotel and restaurant (a first for the brand) around the corner at 55 Gansevoort Street.

To resident Joshua Starr, the area has lost its specialness. “The Meatpacking no longer maintains restaurants that are impossible to get into and seems less unique and more commercial now.”

Elaine Young, a 30-year resident and Community Board 2 member, is pleased there are fewer nightclubs now and said the Whitney’s arrival brought “a new mix of grownups to the neighborhood.”

But she said Meatpacking has attracted a “crush of developers who praise the area’s character and then proceed to remove the edgy quality of the neighborhood through developing bland structures. They are killing its character,” Young said.