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A community board hearing around a potential new mega-nightclub has revealed a schism over the direction of the far-west side of Hell’s Kitchen.
The battle came to light at Manhattan Community Board 4’s Business Licenses and Permits Committee (MCB4) meeting Tuesday as it heard a proposal to convert the former Lexus car dealership at 11th Avenue (between W46/47th Street) into Magnitude, a 2,000-person capacity LGBTQIA+ club with a 2,500-person capacity rooftop which would open as late as 4am.
If approved, Magnitude would become the first gay club on 11th Avenue, close to Harbor NYC, at 621 W46th Street between 11/12th Avenue and The Press Lounge, at 653 11th Avenue between W47/48th Street.
But the plan ran into opposition from MCB4 members, who suggested that with two nearby apartment buildings already built (Gotham West and The West), the future of the stretch of 11th Avenue and nearby streets is residential, and said they did not want to discourage future affordable housing development near the site.
The battle offers insight into the changing face of 11th Avenue, with car showrooms in decline and the mayor and city authorities this week encouraging new rules allowing offices to more easily become apartment buildings. The original Automobile Row on Broadway and the West 50s was declared dead by the New York Times in 1984 (but has lived on much longer). US auto sales showed an 8 percent fall in 2022, the Wall Street Journal reported this week.
Magnitude is the brainchild of Sherif Mabrouk, manager of The Eagle nightclub in Chelsea, Sergio Polajenko, a nightclub proprietor with several venues in New Jersey, and Akram Qaid, owner of City Fish in Harlem. In a written submission to MCB4, they outlined a plan for an “inclusive, safe, and friendly night venue that showcases cutting-edge, high-energy music trends and talented DJs.”
“Magnitude will be a unique nightclub with fun activities besides drinking and dancing, such as a tarot card reading room,” they said. The plan would take over the entire former Lexus showroom, which was vacated during the pandemic. The nightclub developers argue it “is unlikely to be used by any business other than a car dealership.”
The developers also argued “the building is too large to be rented as office space, not only because more companies are choosing remote work, but because of the high rent,” adding: “The space is likely to remain vacant on a block with a car wash and strip club in an area of NYC that is somewhat desolate and away from residential buildings. In fact, there are no residential buildings on the same block.”
But MCB4 committee members and meeting attendees argued that the far-west side’s growing profile of luxury residences like Gotham West on W45th Street and 11th Avenue and the newly-fashioned condos at The West — diagonally across the street from the proposed club site at W47th Street and 11th Avenue — showed the future direction of far-west Hell’s Kitchen is apartments, not clubs. The recent closure of Manhattan Lumber and Hardware on both sides of the next block (between W45/46th Street) bring the possibility of more residential development locally.
Committee member Jesse Greenwald said: “Some points were also made by the block associations in letters to us, specifically pointing out how your plan for this rooftop could impede our community board’s affordable housing plan, seeing as a number of buildings in the area are targeted for potential housing development. I certainly would not want the existence of a loud, rowdy club on a rooftop to stop developers from going in and developing those buildings. I think that that would be a real tragedy.”
Resident and co-chair of the W47th Street Block Association, Elke Fears said: “When you have a brand new building on the northeast corner of 47th Street and the Gotham West is a block and a half away — who would want to buy or rent across the street from a club that has an open roof?”
Committee member Christine Berthet said: “We’ve spent hours on this committee over the years resolving issues of people listening to music from rooftops around 11th Avenue — hours and hours, days. You are talking to a group of people which have really suffered from that kind of club. We have been able to mitigate those issues and close those places and it’s not something that we look forward to reopening.”
Co-chair of the Hell’s Kitchen W49th/50th Street Block association Stephen Belida said that in regards to the rooftop noise and concerns over safety, the group doesn’t “have answers to a lot of these issues that are going to really impact the neighborhood in a very negative way. They really came unprepared for this meeting.” added Belida. “They’re answering questions now that were already brought up to them — such as how are you going to deal with 2,500 people [on the roof]?”
Other community members said it was time to retire the area’s club legacy. “I did go clubbing when I was younger in New York, but it was a completely different neighborhood then,” resident Ute Keyes told the hearing. “I remember going for a jog at 7am down to the river and in front of that club there were drug addicts hanging out, sleeping on the street, there was vomit everywhere, there were flyers, dirt, it was a mess. Thinking that there will be about 4,000 people in the neighborhood, which has changed so much since back in the early 2000s — I find it very problematic.”
Mabrouk and his co-applicants argued that for the city’s LGBTQ community, 11th Avenue would be an easily accessible social gathering spot, and they would be hiring local employees to retain neighborhood engagement. “This is going to be a gay population club,” said Mabrouk.”I feel that the population of gay people in New York City is in the West Side, starting from Chelsea going to Hell’s Kitchen, that’s their residential spot.”
They are in the process of exploring soundproofing options as well as expanded security measures beyond training employees and installing cameras throughout the property. Clubs across the city — in Hell’s Kitchen where the murders of Julio Ramirez and John Umberger still remain unsolved and in Chelsea, have been the site of unsettling crimes against the LGBTQ community. Earlier this week a video emerged of unidentified men allegedly peddling narcotics outside Mabrouk’s venue The Eagle in Chelsea surfaced, fueling concerns about safety for LGBTQIA+ people.
Asked about alternative locations for the planned club, Mabrouk told CB4 members that other options like taking over the now-closed PACHA club space, at 618 W46th Street between 11th and 12th Avenue, weren’t possible due to the properties being tied up in West Side landlord Robert Gans’s portfolio bankruptcy. Despite suggestions that the Magnitude site becomes a much-requested West Side supermarket, it was his opinion as a real estate professional that “the area is not residential enough for a supermarket to cover that rent.”
Another of the developers, Polajenko, said, “We’re willing to do whatever it takes to make this project succeed. It’s a wonderful property. There’s not a lot of other people that are going to be able to utilize this property other than what we have in mind.”
The jury is still out as to whether 11th Avenue will continue to move towards hard-partying clubs or posh high-rises. The members of the BLP committee voted to deny Magnitude’s application at this stage, advising them to come up with a significantly more detailed security and noise reduction plan before pleading their case before the full community board at their next meeting on Wednesday February 1. W42ST reached out to the applicants and we will update this if we hear back.
Member Jesse Greenwald told the developers: “I’m not trying to say that you’re coming in here with bad faith. I do believe that you’ve done this before, that you know how to limit sound. I just can’t move forward until I’ve seen precisely how you’re going to do it, and it would be wildly irresponsible for us to vote without that.”