Hoteliers find a haven on Lower East Side

A glance at today s Lower East Side skyline offers a strong impression — one of these buildings is not like the others. While the newly christened Hotel on Rivington, a 21-story glass tower, would be a gem in any neighborhood, it s an unlikely sparkler in an area comprised of tenement buildings and dive bars, far from Manhattan s main tourist-traffickedécorridors.

Indeed, two major groups of travelers that carry the hotel trade business road warriors and families will likely shy away from the Lower East Side s diminished but still evident grit.

So who stays at the $225-a-night hotel, one of several boutique properties being developed in downtown Manhattan? “We re targeting people in the creative fields film, music, advertising, fashion,” said Klaus Ortlieb, the Rivington s general manager. “A lot of Hollywood people will stay here, as well as a fair amount of European travelers.”

If the Lower East Side has anything, it s a reputation as a point of artistic convergence, so this could certainly work in hotels favor.

“The hotel will definitely attract artists the Lower East Side was home to them at one point,” said Ortlieb, with no apparent irony. The Rivington s owner, Paul Stallings, began investing in apartment buildings on the Lower East Side in 1979, when terms like “war zone” were common and “rough neighborhood” was a model of gentle understatement.

In some ways, the move towards new hotels and redevelopment on the Lower East Side echoes the transformation that took Soho from being a bastion of loft-colonizing modern artists to the first neighborhood of retail. The Pomeranc Group, which opened the $25 million 60 Thompson hotel in Soho in February 2001, has plans for a Lower East Side project as well. The Allen Street development slated for late 2005 will be situated between Houston and Stanton, just blocks from the Hotel on Rivington. Add in developer Randy Settenbrino s plans for a 22-room boutique hotel on Orchard Street and you have a little cluster of pricey chic.

Even with the hotel and tourist trade in New York taking a terrible hit after Sept. 11 and visitor numbers fluctuating with national economic fortune in recent years, still developers have plenty of faith in their boutique offerings. Reservations were hard to come by at 60 Thompson, even in 2002, a claim few other New York hotels can make. Word-of-mouth apparently did the trick, since Pomeranc consciously opted to avoid advertising, directing its few print ads toward limited-circulation urban magazines.

Though none of the Lower East Side hotels have been open long enough to measure their success, Pomeranc s decision to develop at Allen Street, after pulling in healthy occupancy rates at 60 Thompson for several years, suggests that demand for boutique offerings in the area is high.

“[For our] commercial properties, we are reducing expenses wherever we can,” Stephen Brandman, chief operating officer of Pomeranc, told the hotel industry newsletter Supplier Interactive in 2003. “The boutique side paints a much rosier picture.”

But without the stately grandeur of uptown hotels as well as their proximity to business and tourist destinations what will sustain the new Lower East Side offerings?

In the city that never sleeps, the answer is night life. “The hotel is literally in the center of night life on the Lower East Side,” said Judi Wong of Hotel on Rivington. “And there will be a total of five bars when construction is completed.” The creative demographic that boutique hotels will be courting seeks the authentic New York entertainment and restaurants that only downtown can bring this is a crowd for whom upscale design and dive bars are far from mutually exclusive.

“The number of nightlife options available to guests is very important,” said Ortlieb. “And there are so many restaurants opening in the neighborhood.”

There s also an element of upscale snobbery in these hip downtown locales. The Hotel on Rivington and the Pomeranc s Allen Street project feature prominently advertised penthouses 5,500-square-foot penthouses in the case of Allen Street as crown jewels; rates at the Rivington range from a $225 a night basic room to the $5,000 a night penthouse. “The higher the floor, the larger the rooms get,” said Ortlieb.

With an average room size of 380 net square feet, this is no cramped economy hotel. The few remaining flophouses and backpacking hostels along the nearby Bowery certainly can t boast a private lounge on the second floor, a prized feature for the Rivington s promoters. The Allen Street hotel will have a similar members-only bar on the roof.

The luster on the Rivington s glass still shimmers, though it remains to be seen how boutique hotels will update themselves to continue to attract the creative crowd. Skeptics suggest they are pursuing the same fickle crowd that turns over nightclubs and bars in a matter of months. And with so many downtown projects in the works, stiff competition for the creative traveler s dollar will be as much a fixture as the surrounding bars, which by then may be “so 2005.”

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TRD A glance at today s Lower East Side skyline offers a strong impression — one of these buildings is not like the others. While the newly christened Hotel on Rivington, a 21-story glass tower, would be a gem in any neighborhood, it s an unlikely sparkler in an area comprised of tenement buildings and dive bars, far from Manhattan s main tourist-traffickedécorridors.

Indeed, two major groups of travelers that carry the hotel trade business road warriors and families will likely shy away from the Lower East Side s diminished but still evident grit.

So who stays at the $225-a-night hotel, one of several boutique properties being developed in downtown Manhattan? “We re targeting people in the creative fields film, music, advertising, fashion,” said Klaus Ortlieb, the Rivington s general manager. “A lot of Hollywood people will stay here, as well as a fair amount of European travelers.”

If the Lower East Side has anything, it s a reputation as a point of artistic convergence, so this could certainly work in hotels favor.

“The hotel will definitely attract artists the Lower East Side was home to them at one point,” said Ortlieb, with no apparent irony. The Rivington s owner, Paul Stallings, began investing in apartment buildings on the Lower East Side in 1979, when terms like “war zone” were common and “rough neighborhood” was a model of gentle understatement.

In some ways, the move towards new hotels and redevelopment on the Lower East Side echoes the transformation that took Soho from being a bastion of loft-colonizing modern artists to the first neighborhood of retail. The Pomeranc Group, which opened the $25 million 60 Thompson hotel in Soho in February 2001, has plans for a Lower East Side project as well. The Allen Street development slated for late 2005 will be situated between Houston and Stanton, just blocks from the Hotel on Rivington. Add in developer Randy Settenbrino s plans for a 22-room boutique hotel on Orchard Street and you have a little cluster of pricey chic.

Even with the hotel and tourist trade in New York taking a terrible hit after Sept. 11 and visitor numbers fluctuating with national economic fortune in recent years, still developers have plenty of faith in their boutique offerings. Reservations were hard to come by at 60 Thompson, even in 2002, a claim few other New York hotels can make. Word-of-mouth apparently did the trick, since Pomeranc consciously opted to avoid advertising, directing its few print ads toward limited-circulation urban magazines.

Though none of the Lower East Side hotels have been open long enough to measure their success, Pomeranc s decision to develop at Allen Street, after pulling in healthy occupancy rates at 60 Thompson for several years, suggests that demand for boutique offerings in the area is high.

“[For our] commercial properties, we are reducing expenses wherever we can,” Stephen Brandman, chief operating officer of Pomeranc, told the hotel industry newsletter Supplier Interactive in 2003. “The boutique side paints a much rosier picture.”

But without the stately grandeur of uptown hotels as well as their proximity to business and tourist destinations what will sustain the new Lower East Side offerings?

In the city that never sleeps, the answer is night life. “The hotel is literally in the center of night life on the Lower East Side,” said Judi Wong of Hotel on Rivington. “And there will be a total of five bars when construction is completed.” The creative demographic that boutique hotels will be courting seeks the authentic New York entertainment and restaurants that only downtown can bring this is a crowd for whom upscale design and dive bars are far from mutually exclusive.

“The number of nightlife options available to guests is very important,” said Ortlieb. “And there are so many restaurants opening in the neighborhood.”

There s also an element of upscale snobbery in these hip downtown locales. The Hotel on Rivington and the Pomeranc s Allen Street project feature prominently advertised penthouses 5,500-square-foot penthouses in the case of Allen Street as crown jewels; rates at the Rivington range from a $225 a night basic room to the $5,000 a night penthouse. “The higher the floor, the larger the rooms get,” said Ortlieb.

With an average room size of 380 net square feet, this is no cramped economy hotel. The few remaining flophouses and backpacking hostels along the nearby Bowery certainly can t boast a private lounge on the second floor, a prized feature for the Rivington s promoters. The Allen Street hotel will have a similar members-only bar on the roof.

The luster on the Rivington s glass still shimmers, though it remains to be seen how boutique hotels will update themselves to continue to attract the creative crowd. Skeptics suggest they are pursuing the same fickle crowd that turns over nightclubs and bars in a matter of months. And with so many downtown projects in the works, stiff competition for the creative traveler s dollar will be as much a fixture as the surrounding bars, which by then may be “so 2005.”