Putting On the Gated Ritz: A 40-Story Ritz-Carlton Rises on the Battery

Once upon a time, the hotel life in Manhattan was for eccentrics-pampered people with gads of money who felt more at home in a home away from home. It was for Cole Porter and Solomon Guggenheim and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Today, it’s for everybody willing to pay to have their life catered by Jean Georges-even those with the sweetest co-op connections. In the year 2000, the zeitgeist in Manhattan real estate has become service, but buildings with concierges, personal trainers and Web sites are already passé.

In January, developers broke ground on the city’s first “five star” condominium, The Residences at the Ritz-Carlton Downtown. (Battery Park City was dropped from the name for obvious reasons.) Its location at the literal end of the road on the very southern tip of Manhattan’s West Side may seem ill-fated-forget trying to hail a cab there. Then again, that’s the whole idea of this monument to the gated communities of the suburbs which, practically speaking, is only reachable by chauffeured transportation.

“Whatever you could think of, the Ritz-Carlton will take care of any request,” said Matthew Hall, a spokesman for Millennium Partners, the developer partnered with the hotel chain.

On top of 311 hotel rooms, the developer is planning 122 high-end condos-seven of them penthouses-running from $500,000 to $6 million. Thirty-three of the apartments have been spoken for, only one of them a penthouse: a 4,256-square foot duplex with four bedrooms, six bathrooms, a library, a fireplace and a 314-square-foot terrace which is under contract for $6 million; total monthly charges are $4,537.

Anita Wood, the exclusive sales agent, said buyers, “love the idea that it’s a Ritz. They’ve stayed at the Ritz their whole lives.”

When you live at the Ritz, you still get to say “put it on my tab” a lot. “Specific requests will be billed like a hotel-like a room service menu in your apartment,” said Mr. Hall, who did not have a price list yet. “If you don’t want to wait for a repairman from 9 to 12, just call the Ritz to handle it.”

But that’s just the simple stuff. The Ritz people think nothing of getting you, say, two seats on the Concord, a table at Danube, or baby-sitting your kids, talking to your plants, doing your laundry, cleaning your apartment, even finding you a personal shopper. They’ll even stock your fridge with caviar or polish your Manolo heels while you vacation on St. Barts. There’s also a techno-cyber concierge on call when you get one of those silly error messages or your printer is on the fritz.

But that still doesn’t cover it. The basic motto is: Anything can be arranged-for a price.

On the house, guests-oops, tenants-are also offered valet parking, the hotel lobby and bar, a Zagat-rated restaurant with a chef that has yet to be named, fully staffed conference and business facilities and a grand ballroom and banquet rooms. There’ll be a spa and fitness club with a sun deck on the 14th floor.

The Ritz-which hasn’t hung its flag in Manhattan since 1997-seems to have let Donald Trump do its dirty work. The Trump International Hotel & Tower (1 Central Park West) which opened in 1997 as a part hotel, part residence has been successful at selling condos. And others-like the conversion of the Westbury Hotel on Madison Avenue to residences-have followed the trend. The new apartments are a far cry from the mostly smaller pads available at the Plaza or the Carlyle or the Sherry Netherland or the Pierre, home to hotel residents of the past.

Now that New Yorkers are hooked on a five-star life, the Ritz has arrived. In addition to the Battery Park City hotel, Millennium Partners plans to renovate the former St. Moritz on Central Park South-they signed a joint venture with hotelier Ian Schrager last year-into a Ritz-Carlton flagship hotel. Naturally, they plan to have residences on the top floors. The 12 residences are not for sale yet.

“It contributes to people’s longevity to have everything under one roof,” said Susan James, the director of sales at Trump International Hotel & Towers. “We’re here to service. Someone can run out and make you a key-that extra pair of hands or feet enable you to accomplish a great deal more than if you had to get dressed, run downstairs and do it yourself. It’s the ultimate in having a luxury lifestyle.”

Kathy Hilton, whose husband Rick Hilton is an heir to the hotel chain, has been a hotel dweller in the city for four years. When they moved from Los Angeles, the couple was jittery about the safety of their socialite-in-training teen-age daughters, Paris, 19, and Nicky, 17. The six cameras in the hallway and the two inside the apartment they took at the Waldorf Towers, at 100 East 50th Street, assuaged her fears.

“I feel completely safe in the middle of the night,” said Ms. Hilton. “When you walk down to get a newspaper at midnight, you know they have the eye in the sky in the hotel. Yes, it’s nice to have a gym and health club right there; a beauty shop and great restaurant are things that are nice to know you have. But the security issue for my husband and children is the greatest [benefit].”

“Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of all black- tie affairs are in the Waldorf,” she added. “You don’t have to go out in the snow. And the Sunday brunch is great…It’s very residential and more and more people are moving in. I don’t think I’ll ever leave!”

Over at 1 Central Park West, the Trump International Hotel & Towers, where $4.5 million buys a two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom, 1,599-square-foot apartment with floor to ceiling views, Janet Jackson, CBS chief executive Mel Karmazin and Johnson & Johnson heiress Libbett Johnson have bought into the idea.

“Jean Georges’ kitchen offers room service to the hotel and 24 hours a day to the residents in the tower and that is major ,” said Ms. James, the sales director.

Two years ago, Janet and Christopher Hassett, a couple of newly minted Internet millionaires who had founded Prizepoint.com, an on-line entertainment site which was acquired by Uproar Inc. last May for $39 million in stock, moved here from northern California. While building a house in Rye, they rented a condo in Trump International, without expecting to fall hard for the luxury services-so hard that they put the Rye house back on the market. In December, the Hassetts, both in their mid-30′s, signed a contract for a three-bedroom, three-and a-half bathroom, 2,100-square-foot condo overlooking Central Park, Columbus Circle and the Hudson River. They’ve rented a room in the hotel until they can move into their new apartment.

“We order services constantly-breakfast, lunch, dinner. I love it! Jean Georges gets to cook for me all the time,” said Ms. Hassett, extolling the virtues of just pressing an extension on the phone and having master chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s lobster risotto delivered to her door.

If she would actually want to cook in her kitchen, the restaurant would also deliver any provisions she needs. Of course, the concierge could also deliver porcelain chop sticks or a non-stick wok. Trump tenants can also charge to their rooms a host of spa luxuries like a 30-minute “salt glow scrub” for $55, a 45-minute seaweed body wrap for $85 or a one-hour aroma therapy session for $105. Private swimming lessons and personal trainers are also available.

“People are busy.… You can take a swim, get a massage, work out for a half an hour, take an elevator downstairs to meet friends for a drink-they’re no cabs, no traffic, no snow. It’s a lifestyle. Time is precious. Here it’s private and exclusive. There’s no crowds, no waiting.”

“It’s la-la land,” Ms. Hassett sang into the telephone from the comforts of her hotel room home. She said she tells the building’s staff that they won’t move her out of the building unless she’s in a pine box.

The strange isolation of Battery Park City-and of course the reputation of the Ritz-has had a similar appeal. Sharon Chrust, an art consultant, and her husband, a businessman, bought a Ritz condo as a pied-à-terre in January. Before moving to Stamford, Conn. 20 years ago, where they maintain a primary residence, they lived in a co-op on 87th Street and Park Avenue. Ms. Chrust hadn’t been to Battery Park City for years, but when she saw an advertisement for the development, she decided to see what Millennium Partners had to offer.

“It’s convenient enough that it worked for me and the views are to die for,” she said, explaining that her business takes her mostly downtown.

The Chrusts signed a contract for a 2,600-square-foot, three-bedroom apartment which was actually one unit plus “a little bit from the apartment next door.” They’ll spend the night there maybe once a week, but Ms. Chrust didn’t want to worry about hassles like keeping food in the SubZero fridge.

“It was good for us that it was a Ritz hotel,” she said. “It’s an easy second residence.”

Bo Zhou, a stock broker with two small children who work in midtown, was trying to make it easier to go out to dinner with his wife. The couple had rented a place in Battery Park City for two years-where there is no real grocery store and no variety of fine dining to speak of-after they left the hustle of SoHo. Room service sounded pretty good.

“We started to like the area,” he told The Observer . “It’s very family oriented…it’s very clean, the air is good, there’s no pollution.”

The Zhous first looked into the condos in October, but were discouraged by high monthly common charges. After checking out the Trump buildings and a few others which have higher common charges than the Ritz-Carlton residences, they signed a contract in early March for two-and-a-half units-creating a 3,700-square-foot, five-bedroom apartment.

“The parks are right downstairs and the kids can walk around feeling safe-without having taxis running 100 miles an hour,” said Mr. Zhou.

Due to open in the spring of 2001, the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton Downtown will have a lot more competition for buyers than similar projects Millennium Partners is building around the country.

“A lot of people have said to me, ‘Cathy, you have the right idea,’” said Ms. Hilton, of her New York lifestyle. “I have had several friends call me and say ‘I’m thinking of selling my apartment and I may move into the Waldorf!’”

Or maybe the Ritz.