The Real Deal New York

Bellevue to offer different views as hotel

May 27, 2008 02:09PM
By Jovana Rizzo

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Future dwellers at Bellevue Hospital’s old psych ward won’t be committed — they’ll actually be paying for their stay in the historic institution.

The New York City Economic Development Corporation is accepting proposals to turn the facility at 492 First Avenue into a hotel and conference center.

The nine-story building, which occupies almost 400,000 square feet, was built in 1931 and designed by Charles Meyers in an Italian Renaissance style with granite, brick and limestone. It is now being used by the city’s Department of Homeless Services.

Hotel proposals are being accepted until June 13th, but if the chosen developer builds it, will people come?

Hospitality analyst Bjorn Hanson says a market exists for travelers looking for offbeat accommodations.

“In general, when prisons or hospitals or other various types are converted to hotels, the number of guests who find the concept intriguing and interesting exceed the number of guests that feel uncomfortable and uneasy,” Hanson said.

Ultimately, though, the success of a hotel cannot hang on its unique history alone, and the building’s location in Kips Bay isn’t much of a tourist spot, brokers say.

“I don’t know if the neighborhood can support a new hotel,” said Eric Anton, executive managing director of Eastern Consolidated. “It’s a little far from all the action in Midtown, and far from Broadway.” 

The closest hotels in the area are boutiques. The Marcel Hotel, at 24th Street and Third Avenue, has 135 rooms, and Hotel Giraffe, at 26th Street and Park Avenue, has 72. At 400,000 square feet, the hospital-turned-hotel could feature 600 to 700 standard rooms, not including a conference space or large suites. 

This isn’t the first hotel conversion that might give guests nightmares – the Liberty Hotel, opened in Boston last year, was once the infamous Charles Street Jail, and overseas, Her Majesty’s Prison in England turned into the boutique hotel Malmaison in 2005. 

“If [travelers] are looking for something different, prisons and psychiatric hospitals have an appeal,” Hanson said. “They have an interesting history, and architecturally there’s a curiosity to see what a clever hotel developer did to make the space interesting.”

With neighbors like Bellevue’s Hospital and the NYU Medical Center, the hotel could attract visitors to the medical corridor. Offering low prices would also draw in travelers, brokers say, but hotels are expensive to build and at the building’s size, a build-out would cost about $300 to $400 per square foot. 

“There’s a lot of medical uses [in the area], so targeting people visiting the hospitals would be a main generator, and if they offer low rates,” Anton said. “People will stay anywhere with low rates under 96th Street.” 

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