New York icon Ian Schrager has seen the high-end hotel future: We’re carrying our own bags

When New York City is at its bleakest, that’s when Ian Schrager tends to shine.

There was 1977, the Summer of Sam. A serial killer prowled the boroughs. Times Square was a cesspool. Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” might as well have been a documentary film. After dark, people were terrified to go outside. That’s the year Schrager and partner Steve Rubell decided to open a nightclub on Manhattan’s forlorn West Side.

“The West Side was like no-man’s-land, like bombed-out London in the ’40 and ’50s,” Schrager recalled. “Just an unseemly, dangerous place where nobody wanted to go. One of the reasons we went there was because there wouldn’t be any problem with the neighbors.”

Studio 54, they called their club, and New York nightlife would never be the same.

“When times are bad, people always seek out an escape — always,” Schrager said, the Brooklyn in his voice only partly sandpapered away by decades of Vanity Fair adulation and gossip-worthy friends. “I opened my first hotel under Ronald Reagan when interest rates were 21, 22%. So, I learned very quickly what Tiger Woods said about golf, that winning takes care of everything. The vagaries of the economy just don’t matter when you go to market with a good product.”

With his first flurry of New York hotels — Morgans, the Royalton and the Paramount — Schrager invented the modern boutique hotel. With the Delano in Miami and the Mondrian in West Hollywood, he defined urban resort. After selling his expanded Morgans Hotel Group in 2005, he turned his attention to high-end residential buildings including Manhattan’s 40 Bond and 50 Gramercy Park North, then began rethinking hotels all over again.

Just in time for New York’s latest slap upside the head.

Battered by COVID-19 and squeezed by empty offices, missing tourists and rising crime, even some lifelong New Yorkers have started sputtering: “New York is over! Who needs it anymore?”

“Ridiculous!” Schrager scoffs. “New York is forever. And I don’t believe in paradigm shifts. We haven’t had one of those since Noah and the Great Flood. We always go back to living the way we lived before. Always. I don’t have any data. I can’t tell you when. But I felt that way in March of last year, despite what all the experts and pundits were saying. No. We will absorb this shot. We will move on. Even 2008, when we almost went into a financial meltdown, a few years later, what happens? Everybody goes back to what they were doing.”

It’s all just a matter of riding the wave.

Schrager’s current wave is something called the PUBLIC hotel, which he describes as a new approach to luxury hospitality, a luxury almost anyone can afford, at least every once in a while.

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The 367-room PUBLIC Hotel New York, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron with minimalist interiors by British designer John Pawson, is a contemporary 28-story building at 215 Chrystie St. on the Lower East Side near the Bowery, another New York district not always known as a tony destination. As at most hotels, the rates bounce around a bit depending on occupancy. But they’re hovering in the $200s, not the $500s and $600s that some high-end New York hostelries demand.

“You know luxury is not only for rich people,” Schrager said. “Luxury is a state of being, a state of mind. It’s about feeling comfortable and having the freedom of time and being treated very kindly and in a very friendly way, rather than being inundated with all these telltale things from the past. White gloves. Gold buttons. Bone china. Who needs all those luxuries from Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries? That doesn’t cut it anymore.”

Today, Schrager said, hotel guests want to check in quickly and get up to their rooms. They want the cappuccino now and don’t care if it’s served in a china cup and saucer. They want fast Wi-Fi. They’re happy to carry — or more likely roll — their own suitcases to the room. “Suitcases have wheels now,” Schrager said. “Why do you need one person to unpack your car for you and someone else to bring your luggage to the room, when you’ll have to tip both of them $5? We’d rather focus on the service that matters.”

One of Ian Schrager’s latest projects, the 367-room PUBLIC Hotel New York.

Nikolas Koenig

Now that the post-pandemic visitors are finally returning to New York — vacation and business travelers — his hotel is buzzing again, Schrager said. “I do think the pandemic has made people think about what’s important to them. There is a more spiritual understanding of what matters.”

Schrager is also in business with Marriott International
having partnered with the company on its new luxury-lifestyle line of EDITION Hotels. “We’re doing about 40 of them around the world,” he said. “I don’t build them. I don’t purchase them. I just create them.” 

Also see: Inflation data says hotel prices are skyrocketing, but you can still find deals

But the PUBLIC is his. “I think this is the future of the industry, to be able to provide a really sophisticated product with exciting food and beverage and entertainment options and great service that’s available to anybody. People aren’t stupid. They know the real thing when they see it.”

The plan, he says, is to “do 10 of them over the next five years and then sell to someone who can do a hundred.”

Then, Ian Schrager can go create something else.

Ellis Henican is an author based in New York City and a former newspaper columnist.

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How COVID-19 is changing the future of homelessness in the Seattle area

SEATTLE, Wash. — As COVID-19 worsened throughout 2020, so did homelessness. During a time when preventing the spread of the virus was first priority, it was nearly impossible to shelter people in the same space.

Claudia Balducci, the Chair of the King County Council in Seattle, says COVID-19 changed the cities’ response to homelessness.

“People realized pretty quickly that we couldn’t continue to house folks in homelessness in these big congregate shelters where they were sleeping on mats on the floor or bunk beds in a big open room because it was too dangerous. There was too big a risk of transmission of the virus,” Balducci said.

COVID-19 also left some local hotels empty, so the county leased them, allowing them to offer homeless people a private room. Dow Constantine, the King County Executive, says the evidence was right in front of them.

“We knew that we were onto something,” Constantine said. “The difference between having a safe place to sleep and then being pushed out on the street and having your own room with a lock on the door was dramatic.”

“The answer to homelessness is housing,” Balducci said.

In 2020, the Washington legislature gave them the authority to raise the sales tax to accelerate getting people into housing. The pandemic, combined with this opportunity led the county to purchase its first hotel: the Inn at Queen Anne. Constantine says they have about five more hotels that are in some stage of negotiation.

“People felt safer, they felt calmer, they did better with their mental health, they did better with planning for the future, there were fewer incidents, less conflict,” Balducci said.

They got direct feedback about what these rooms meant to people experiencing homelessness.

“I have a door I can close. I feel safe. I can sleep. There is a place for my belongings. I don’t have to carry them around with me all the time or worry about them being stolen,” Balducci said. “Instead of being in crisis mode all the time. You can’t plan for your future when you’re constantly dealing with the crisis of the moment.”

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, on a single night in 2020, roughly 580,000 people experienced homelessness in the United States.

“I think that this is an opportunity for every community that’s experiencing homelessness,” Constantine said.

King County wants to be a model for the rest of the country. They say spending money on the front end instead of the back end can create results.

“If you’re a taxpayer, you’re paying for that because people end up in hospitals, they end up in jails, very expensive services that all taxpayers contribute to,” Balducci said. “Over time you’re going to save money because you’re going to have a lot less emergency intervention that is so expensive and frankly doesn’t solve the problem.”

They expect to have about 1,600 people off the streets and into permanent housing by the end of next year, a reality they feel will drastically change their community.

“We are going to show the public that this works and by doing so I believe we will build support to do more of it until we finally turn the tide on this crisis,” Constantine said.

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Alden Clashes With Billionaire Over Future of Tribune—and of Local News

A few weeks ago, New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital LLC was on the verge of acquiring Tribune Publishing Co. —home to the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and other U.S. metro newspapers—with seemingly no one in its way.

Then it offended one of its partners in the deal, setting off a battle that could help shape the future of local news in America.

Maryland hotel magnate Stewart Bainum Jr. had worked out a side arrangement with Alden Chief Executive Heath Freeman to buy the Sun, a paper Mr. Bainum grew up reading. Then, in Mr. Bainum’s view, Alden tried to raise the cost of a fee agreement that would substantially jack up the price, people close to the situation said.

Mr. Bainum told his advisers late on the afternoon of Friday, March 12, that he was worried he could no longer trust Alden, according to a person familiar with the matter.

That evening, the 74-year-old got on the phone with his bankers and decided to attempt a stunning 11th-hour move: his own bid for the whole company, which he announced by the end of the weekend.

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