The sin I live in: Times Square looks to Las Vegas for inspiration

Casino, hotels galore planned for bruised shopping mecca

Photo illustration of SL Green's Marc Holliday (iStock, Getty)
Photo illustration of SL Green's Marc Holliday (iStock, Getty)

As Times Square plots its post-pandemic future, the tourism and entertainment hub is taking a page out of Sin City.

A series of new projects are betting big on tourism and entertainment in the neighborhood as its offices remain largely vacant, the Wall Street Journal reports. Prospects include Manhattan’s first casino, hotels with high-life amenities and major upgrades to tourist attractions.

“I hope that anyone who wrote obituaries for Times Square has an eraser,” said Tom Harris, president of the Times Square Alliance, the neighborhood’s business improvement district.

Before the pandemic emptied Times Square’s shops, theaters and offices, the district had an equivalent economic output to the city of Nashville. Its 66,000 workers accounted for roughly 15 percent of the city’s economy.

In recent years, tourism in the district has recovered more quickly than office work. In March, Times Square hotel occupancy hit 80 percent of pre-pandemic levels, according to the BID, while office keycard swipes were just 37 percent of their former level, according to Kastle Systems. Some of the city’s biggest developers are taking notice and turning to the Las Vegas Strip for ideas.

As New York seeks to fast-track downstate casino licenses to spur economic recovery, SL Green Realty wants to build a casino in Manhattan. In an earnings call last week, chief executive Marc Holliday made the case for building it in Times Square.

“The absolute best, most obvious, least impactful and most globally accepted area will be Times Square,” he said.
Other real estate heavyweights are investing in hospitality as international tourists flock back. Extell Development’s Hard Rock branded hotel opened on Monday with a “rock star” duplex penthouse and outdoor pool.

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L&L Holding is building TSX Broadway, a $2.5 billion hotel and retail development with a concert stage facing out onto Times Square, with opening slated for 2023. The firm considered changing the development when the pandemic struck, but opted to stay the course.

“Tourists were going to continue to come,” said L&L’s David Orowitz.

And Jamestown is expected to announce a major upgrade of One Times Square, the tourist attraction where the ball – and Ryan Seacrest – drops every New Year’s Eve.

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Others are skipping development and just buying hospitality at bargain-bin prices. MCR and Andrew Farkas’ Island Capital Group scooped up a Sheraton in Times Square last week for $373 million, roughly half of what the property last sold for in 2006.

Commenting on the deal, MCR’s chief executive Tyler Morse offered up the new Times Square mantra.

“People want to be with other people,” he said.

[WSJ] — Joe Lovinger