The School of Visual Arts signed a deal to relocate its main gallery from SoHo to Chelsea, yet another indicator that SoHo has lost its status as the center of the city’s art world. In March, the school will open a 9,041 square foot space in the Starrett-Lehigh Building at 601 W. 26th St.,between 11th and 12th avenues. The gallery will present exhibits and student projects formerly shown at its 1,500 square foot SoHo gallery at 137 Wooster Street.
“The market has moved. We wanted our students exhibiting in that atmosphere, in the pulse of the art world,” says Heather Steliga, a spokeswoman for the School of visual Arts, which holds classes at 209 E. 23rd Street. The school’s administrators signed a 30-year lease in the 2 million square foot converted factory, which has asking rents in the high $20’s. Starrett-Lehigh, which is owned by 601 West Associates, represented itself in the deal. Colliers ABR Inc. represented the school. Like the SoHo gallery, the Starrett-Lehigh space will give students experience as working artists, allowing them to sell their work. The building’s diverse tenant roster includes art galleries, fashion firms and the U.S. Customs Service; the School of Visual Arts hopes to turn some of its neighbors into art buyers.
“(The administrators) were impressed with the caliber of tenants,” says Mark Karasick, managing member of the investment group that owns the building, which has struggled to fill space.
Downtown real estate experts say that Chelsea’s manufacturing and commercial zoning may prevent the residential development that helped transform SoHo from a community of galleries to an outdoor mall of national retailers. After losing their SoHo galleries to retailers paying higher rents, gallery owners approached Chelsea more cautiously.
“In Chelsea, most of the galleries and dealers have purchased their space,” says Bruce Sinder president of Sinvin Realty Corp., a specialist in downtown leasing. “Here, if they want to stay, they can.”