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
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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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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Future of Whakaari / White Island tourism debated

‘Explore an active volcano!’ the brochures advertising
trips to Whakaari / White Island said – but should tourists
have been allowed there in the first place, and should they
be allowed back?

on 16 November 2020 of steam, gas and ash emission from the
2019 primary vent area of the Whakaari / White Island
crater. Photo: GNS Science

In 2012,
Ohio’s Denison University associate professor of geosciences
Erik Klemetti wrote an article titled How dangerous is
visiting New Zealand’s White Island?

In it, he
warned that even a small steam-driven eruption could have
catastrophic and potentially deadly consequences – if a tour
group was there at the time.

“I can see why people are
drawn to it, I was always struck by the fact that volcanoes
can be somewhat unpredictable, even with the best

Whakaari erupted
on 9 December last year, Klemetti was
at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San

“When I did see the headline come across on
Twitter … I had this feeling of like, this is exactly the
sort of thing that I hoped wouldn’t happen, that ended up

When Klemetti was offered the opportunity
to go to the island, back in 2009, he said no.

level of risk management there, the amount of nervousness I
had about doing a trip like that was high enough that I
thought, it’s not worth probably doing, although people who
I know who are volcanologists who have done it, say it’s
remarkable and I’m sure it would have been.

“But I
just could not bring myself to do it.”

University of
Auckland volcanologist Shane Cronin suspects people began to
woefully underestimate the risk posed by

“Primarily because the numbers of people
visiting the island, that’s increased hugely,” Cronin

Once tours were few and far between – and even
stopped during winter.

“These days what was going on:
there were people coming off cruise ships, so there were
multiple trips per day, people were coming in with
helicopters, with boat tours.

“The sheer number of
people coming to the island – not only just at once, but
continuously – meant that our exposure to the risk was much,
much higher.”

Three years prior to last December’s
eruption, there was an eruption of a similar size at
Whakaari – except it happened at night.

“We had a
series of these near-misses and we were pretty well aware of
that at a national level, that a lot of our tourist
volcanoes have this sort of sudden onset risk, and it was
ranked as one of the highest likelihood events, in terms of
a mass casualty event,” Cronin said.

Klemetti said he
would be hesitant to open the volcano up to the same level
of tourism again.

“Maybe you could have tours that
tour around the island, to see it from a boat, but that
again, you’d need to know what the level of hazard and level
of activity the island might be showing at the

“But having people with boots on the ground on
the island on a regular basis just feels like it’s just
asking for something like this to happen

Cronin was not convinced either.

think it’s a great place to visit when things are in a calm
level, I’m just not sure we are in a position to be able to
provide such a clear sense of security about

When it was announced last week charges
were being laid
over the disaster, WorkSafe chief
executive Phil Parkes would not say whether tourists should
be allowed to return to Whakaari because that was outside
the scope of the investigation.

“Our investigation was
focused on the obligations of the individuals and companies
who were taking people to the island, whether they met their
health and safety obligations, any discussions around the
future of the island were outside the scope of the
investigation,” he had said.

The Ministry of Business,
Innovation and Employment is reviewing the adventure
activities regulations – looking specifically at activities
that revolve around natural hazards.

The Department of
Internal Affairs is also working with other government
agencies about future access to Whakaari / White

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