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Families Choosing Chelsea

A gritty pocket on the edge of West Chelsea that has been largely home to late-night club-goers, parking lots and art galleries is slowly drawing a new citizenry: schoolchildren with backpacks.

Attracted by the High Line and the Chelsea Piers sports center and perhaps driven by an adventurous spirit, families are discovering the industrial blocks north of 19th Street between 10th and 12th avenues.

The shift has surprised some brokers and developers. More than half a dozen new buildings were keyed to the opening of the second phase of the High Line from West 20th to West 30th streets last year—along with the expectation they would draw singles and Europeans seeking pied-à-terres. And while that happened, builders also began to see interest from families.

“When I was originally looking in the neighborhood, the demographics were a little bit different. It was someone doing a little bit of entertaining, somebody that had a large art collection,” said Alf Naman, the developer of the HL23, a project with full-floor units at 10th Avenue and 23rd Street.

The neighborhood also offers one of the few opportunities to buy large units downtown as the West Village and TriBeCa have become increasingly unaffordable for young families with their sights set on Manhattan.

“Guys of my generation who never wanted to live on the Upper East Side and had always lived downtown started having kids,” said Keith Jacobson, an owner of Bishopscourt Capital, which developed 520 West Chelsea, a 25-unit building where 18 apartments have three or more bedrooms. Mr. Jacobson’s new project in West Chelsea won’t have any apartments with fewer than three bedrooms.

Chelsea as a whole has, in fact, seen a jump in the sale of large apartments. In 2006, only seven apartments with three bedrooms or more were sold in the neighborhood, according to Miller Samuel, a real-estate appraisal firm. By 2011, that number had jumped to 102.

Brokers attributed growing interest in the area to another new addition: the Avenues World School, a 1,600-student for-profit institution that is set to open this fall at 10th Avenue and 25th Street.

“I’ve received calls from dozens of people who are asking, ‘What do you have available for large homes for families?'” said Eric Malley, a broker at Sotheby’s. Other brokers specializing in luxury apartments said they’ve begun receiving inquiries from clients interested in moving because of the school.

Avenues, where the tuition is $40,000 a year, at first considered a space at West 57th Street and 12th Avenue, but that plan was upended by the recession. About half the school was filled during the early-admissions process, the chief executive of Avenues, Christopher Whittle, said. Regular admissions acceptances are going out now, he said.

Although the school remains untested, at least some parents are gambling on it enough to uproot their families. Benjamin Yogel and his wife, Michele, are moving from the Upper East Side to West Chelsea because their 3-year-old son, Oliver, was recently accepted to Avenues.

Mr. Yogel, whose son attends preschool at the Park Avenue Synagogue, said he was eager to avoid the frenzied process of applying to more-established Manhattan private schools.

“All the schools on the Upper East Side are all long-standing institutions, which not only have long-standing cultural [norms], but have dated facilities. This is a brand new state-of-the-art school that doesn’t have any legacy issues,” Mr. Yogel said.

He said that unlike on the Upper East Side, finding an apartment in West Chelsea has been a challenge. Neighborhood amenities have yet to catch up with the demographic change.

“We looked at an apartment that is gorgeous and overlooks the High Line, and inside it’s very high-end and very sophisticated. Then you look on the street, and it’s a gas station and the streets themselves are not that pretty,” Mr. Yogel said.

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