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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.

Don’t miss: Little by little, New York City workers are heading back to the office

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
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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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Future

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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Reviews

‘The World in a Selfie’ Review: The Trouble With Tourism


Two years ago, Rebecca Mead of the New Yorker published a long article, “The Airbnb Invasion of Barcelona,” that addressed some of the challenges of unfettered tourism. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Barcelona, year over year, found itself steadily drowning in foreign visitors. Short-term rentals on Airbnb, often illegally operated, filled the city’s apartment buildings and depressed the local housing supply. Barcelona’s main tourist draws, including Park Güell and the Sagrada Familia Church, were thronged by enormous quantities of visitors.

In the summer of 2014, spurred by the drunken antics of holiday-makers, protesters took to the streets to bring attention to “the pestilence of young visitors who came to Barcelona not to sample the local culture but to enact internationally recognized tropes of partying.” Three years later, 60% of Barcelona residents claimed in a survey that the city had reached or exceeded its capacity to host tourists.

Hating tourists is nothing new, as the Italian journalist Marco D’Eramo notes in “The World in a Selfie,” translated into English by Bethan Bowett-Jones and David Broder. Mr. D’Eramo quotes a British magazine article from 1848 lamenting that, for all their merits, the advent of the railroad and the steamboat had “afflicted our generation with one desperate evil; they have covered Europe with Tourists.” Adam Smith, in his “Wealth of Nations” (1776), heaped mocking scorn on the vogue of young men gallivanting around the Continent on so-called Grand Tours.

“The World in a Selfie,” first published in 2017, has been updated in this English-language edition to account for the pandemic, which shut down international travel for a year. Mr. D’Eramo highlights tourism’s paramount role in the world economy, smartly observing that Covid “proved the centrality of tourism through tourism’s omission. Once this industry ceased, not only airlines and shipping companies but aircraft manufacturers and shipyards found themselves on the verge of bankruptcy.” The book, “an inquiry into the tourist age,” is somewhat disjointed, moving distractedly at times from topic to topic and losing the thread in the philosophical weeds. But in its more focused moments, “Selfie” makes for a bracing, provocative examination of an all-too-human pastime.

One recurring theme here is our futile search, through travel, for the “authentic.” Mr. D’Eramo saves his most biting commentary for UNESCO and its “World Heritage” listings, which he likens to a “kiss of death.” “Once the label is affixed,” he writes, “the city’s life is snuffed out; it is ready for taxidermy.” That’s hyperbole, no doubt, but his commentary on the unintended consequences of preservation is compelling.



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News

Microsoft Is in Exclusive Talks to Acquire Discord


Microsoft Corp. is in advanced talks to acquire messaging platform Discord Inc. for $10 billion or more, according to people familiar with the matter, as the software giant seeks to deepen its consumer offerings.

Microsoft and Discord are in exclusive talks and could complete a deal next month, assuming the negotiations don’t fall apart, the people said.

Originally favored by gamers, San Francisco-based Discord offers voice, text and video chatting. The platform’s popularity has surged since the pandemic took hold as people stay home and connect online—as has that of other chat services, like Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp and Signal Messenger LLC. Discord has been considering an IPO.

Microsoft, which has a market value of more than $1.7 trillion, has been on the hunt for an acquisition that would help it reach more consumers. Last summer, it held talks to buy the popular video-sharing app TikTok amid a high-profile geopolitical standoff prompted by the Trump administration, before abandoning the effort.

VentureBeat reported this week that Discord was exploring a sale and had entered exclusive discussions with an unnamed suitor.



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Gadgets

It’s 2:30 a.m. in Wyoming: ‘You’re holding a smartphone to let a husband say goodbye to his wife via FaceTime after 60 years of marriage’


The first wave of the pandemic hit New York, and other cities with dense populations. As hospitals were overwhelmed with patients and struggled to access enough personal protective equipment and ventilators, the midwest and south were largely spared the worst of COVID-19.

Then, came the fall.

COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, started disrupting families and ravaging lives far from the metropolitan counties, especially in the southern and midwestern states such as Texas, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

North Dakota has 167 COVID-19 cases per 100,000, while Wyoming has 140 coronavirus infections per 100,000, followed by South Dakota with 124,000 cases per 100K, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.


‘You hear stories from Europe and China. You tell yourself it is not going to happen here.’


— Andy Dunn, chief of staff at the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, Wyo.

As of Monday, there were 72,683 confirmed cases in North Dakota, and 846 deaths, and the population there has 7% positivity rate. New daily cases hit 1,143 over a seven-day period. Wyoming has 28,169 confirmed cases, 176 deaths and a 16.2% positivity rate, and 759 new daily cases.

“Everyone at the frontline has extra hours, extra shifts to keep up with the volume,” said Andy Dunn, chief of staff at the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, Wyo. “We need more resources, we look for supplies from all over because we are seeing patients from South Dakota, too.”

But the extent of the crisis in Wyoming has still been a shock. A medical doctor from Colorado, Dunn moved to Casper ten years ago. In 2017, he took the role of chief of staff, and he is currently taking a hands-on role, treating COVID-19 patients at the center.

“You hear stories from Europe and China. You tell yourself it is not going to happen here,” he told MarketWatch. “And then, all of a sudden, it is 2:30 a.m., and you are holding a smartphone to let a husband say goodbye to his wife via FaceTime after 60 years of marriage.”

Andy Dunn, chief of staff at the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, Wyo.

Patients in their 40s and 50s

“We all knew that it was coming, but you don’t get it until it is here, and it hits you. Things are rough at the hospital right now,” he said. Nor are his patients all elderly. At his hospital, several patients are now in their 40s, while numerous others are in their 50s, Dunn said.

The Wyoming Department of Health has recently approved requests from 15 counties to implement mask mandates to slow the spread of COVID-19. But a petition on Change.org asking for end restrictions in Wyoming was signed by 800 people just in a few days.

But some medical professionals in these midwestern states are not pro mask mandates. “If it is not an N95 mask, well, then you won’t be sure that it does protect you properly,” said Lisa Drylie, a nurse working in an operating-room division of the Sanford Hospital in Fargo, N.D.


‘A mask mandate has to be part of the mitigation of spread.’


— Adam Hohman, a 43-year-old nurse practitioner in Fargo, N.D.

“So, no, I don’t think that a mandatory masks mandate is going to help us,” she added. (In a review of studies on masks last month, the journal Nature concluded that “the science supports that face coverings are saving lives during the coronavirus pandemic.”)

It’s preferable to use a high-quality cloth or surgical masks of a plain design instead of face shields and masks with exhale valves, according to an experiment published in September by Physics of Fluids, a monthly peer-reviewed scientific journal covering fluid dynamics.

States like New York used the mandatory mask mandate as one of the main tools to stop the spread and to dodge the second wave in the fall. As of July, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, launched the national “Mask Up America” to promote is mask mandate.

But in North Dakota, there are moments of respite. Drylie sometimes hears joyful music from the lower floors of her hospital. It gives her hope. “It happens when they celebrate a patient who has recovered and dismissed,” she said.

Others disagree with Drylie. “A mask mandate has to be part of the mitigation of spread,” said Adam Hohman, a 43-year-old nurse practitioner who lives in Fargo, N.D. “A limited government is good, but we got to a point where we needed to do something more.”

Shortage of health-care workers

But beyond the masks, the shortage of actual health-care workers is another common issue that ties together North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming, along with many other midwestern states across the U.S., according to local reports.

“The biggest problem I am hearing from my colleagues is that they don’t have enough nurses, said Hohman, originally from Minnesota, where he works at a hospital located in a rural area in North Dakota. He has worked 10 to 14 hours a day when the pandemic first hit.

Hohman said that hospitals in North Dakota are increasing their bed capacity by opening some units or converting other wards. “But they are having trouble in finding nurses to keep up with the work load, and to staff those beds,” he said.

Some hospitals in North Dakota even allowed health-care workers with COVID-19, when asymptomatic, to keep working in coronavirus units. And the U.S. Air Force has recently deployed 60 medical personal to help the state hospital staffing crisis.

The shortage of nurses across the U.S. is not a new problem, but the pandemic shed renewed light on the issue as the coronavirus pandemic hit. But North Dakota and Wyoming are actually among the best in the country in rankings of nurse-to-patients ratios.


The pandemic shed renewed light on the shortage of nurses across the U.S.

North Dakota has 16.4 nurses per 1,000 residents, making it the fourth-best equipped state in the country, while Wyoming is No. 1 with 19.9 nurses per 1,000 population, according to the Bureau of Health Workforce, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services.

If even two of the best-ranked states for U.S. Nurse-to-State Population Ratio are struggling, others like Texas, California, or Montana are suffering even more, according to recent research by STAT, a media company focused on health, medicine, and scientific discovery.

“Public-health infrastructure and disaster planning in the United States remain underfunded and under-appreciated at all levels,”Hohman said. “We remain underprepared for protecting our nation’s health in the setting of current and future pandemics.”

When the pandemic hit New York in March and April, Hohman traveled to New York to help his colleagues. “I saw the worst of the worst up there. I think we underestimated our risk here in North Dakota due to our ruralness and a mentality that we are not New York,” he said.

Related:COVID-19 spread when 5 million people left Wuhan for Chinese New Year, yet 50 million Americans will still travel for Thanksgiving

As of Monday, there were at least 257,549 deaths due to COVID-19 in the U.S. and there have been 12.4 million reported infections of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to the John Hopkins University database. Worldwide, there are 59 million cases and almost 1.4 million deaths.

Texas and California both have over 1 million reported cases of COVID-19. Texas has 1,153,612 million cases, 21,013 deaths, and a 10.6% positivity rate, as of Monday. California has 1,114,524 reported infections and 18,726 deaths, with a 5% positivity rate.

New York, which was the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S. during the early days of the first surge, has the most deaths of any U.S. state (34,319), followed by Texas, California, Florida (17,991), New Jersey (16,761), and Illinois (12,050).

With Thanksgiving weekend looming, the medical community fears that up to 50 million people traveling to see relatives and friends will create even more community transmission. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked Americans to stay home.

Medical doctors like the Wyoming Medical Center’s chief of staff, Andy Dunn, have one, reminder for Americans, one that will be more likely if they heed advice. “Be boring, stay put,” he said from his office in Casper, Wyo. “Thanksgiving will happen next year.”

This story is part of a MarketWatch series Dispatches from a Pandemic.



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