Seattle native Alex Calderwood is fired up to finally be in New York City.
“We’ve been interested in New York for a long time,” said the co-founder of ultra-hip Ace Hotel Group, who recently relocated to Manhattan amid plans to open the first East Coast outpost of his fledging yet fashionable brand of lodgings later this year.
“On the West Coast, one of our No. 1 cities, as far as people coming to us, is New York,” he said. “So I think the converse will be true, that we will also have a great audience, a great appeal, hopefully, in the New York market.”
Mr. Calderwood and Co. are taking over management of the old Breslin Hotel on the corner of Broadway and West 29th Street, where massive renovations are planned over the next year to convert the shabby landmark residential building into a trendy hotel for tourists.
It’s a big job, as the ancient, 360-unit single-room-occupancy dwelling, opened in 1904, will require some rather commodious reconstruction. “We need to add bathrooms,” he said (the old hotel currently offers only shared facilities in the hallways), “and there’s infrastructure and things that eat up square footage. We’ll come in around 250 rooms.”
Mr. Calderwood and developers Andrew Zobler and Allen Gross hope to reopen a revamped Breslin with better plumbing, among other things, next December.
“We’re definitely on track,” Mr. Calderwood told The Observer this week, seemingly unfazed by recent litigation aiming to derail the modish transformation.
On Jan. 30, a lawyer representing several tenants who currently live in the Breslin will argue in court that alleged “veiled threats” and “interruption of essential services” in the months leading up to the planned hotel conversion has constituted an illegal form of harassment intended to drive out the rent-regulated residents.
If a judge agrees, then the city could revoke the necessary permits, spoiling Ace Hotel’s much anticipated Big Apple debut.
Recent living conditions, as described by angry residents in court papers, are a far cry from even the minimalist comforts that guests at existing Ace locations in Seattle and Portland are accustomed to: chronic heating problems, mounds of untended garbage piling up, elevators constantly malfunctioning—the doors of the lifts noisily slamming shut, swinging open, shutting, opening, over and over, like some chomping mechanical monster.
On one occasion last March, an elevator purportedly jammed shut, trapping a guy inside for nearly a half-hour as a firefighter tried to pry him out.
The shared bathrooms and common areas, meanwhile, are described as unkempt, to say the least, with “faucets taped with duct tape” and “a partition tied together with what looked like a shoelace.”
Amid all the alleged dysfunction and disrepair, unhappy inhabitants say they have been repeatedly hounded to accept a payoff and move out—and at least 150 or so already have, according to court papers—yet many choose to remain, clinging to the Breslin’s cheap rent and central Manhattan location.
One firmly entrenched resident even refused a proposed relocation to another rent-stabilized building, preferring to stay “close to work” in the run-down Broadway hostelry “rather than being in some shady area” in Brooklyn, according to her testimony.
Mr. Calderwood said he isn’t concerned about potential delays resulting from the lawsuit. “We’ve been working very, very closely with the tenants,” he said. “I’m confident that everything will work out for everyone.”
Perhaps that confidence comes from the fact that one judge already dismissed the residents’ complaints, noting that there was “limited documentation to corroborate the tenants’ testimony,” as city records showed relatively few building violations at the Breslin over the past three years.
“The evidence regarding these encounters demonstrates that the Breslin management made continued efforts to reach buyout agreements with as many tenants as possible, including financial payouts and relocations to rent-regulated apartments. This falls far short of harassment,” ruled Faye Lewis, administrative law judge, in an August 2007 decision.
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