Helmsley Enterprises hired Mr. Briskin two and a half years ago—about six months before Leona died—to, in his formulation, “improve the property and reposition it.” That Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Briskin, whose hospitality accomplishments at the Core Club and the Muse Hotel would set a Cornell hotelie’s jaw agape, stood up from his desk and walked to a pile of renderings leaning against his back wall.
He placed one atop the arms of a red upholstered chair: “This will be the reception area, if you will.”
His languid presentation belied, if you will, the revolutionary changes in store for the hotel: Gone will be the interlocking H’s. Gone will be the reception desk. Gone will be Harry’s New York Bar and Mindy’s restaurant, where Leona Mindy Helmsley would lunch and sip red zinger tea a few times weekly.
Instead, a future visitor to the Helmlsey—it will keep the name—will walk upon a stone floor to one of a series of individual registration desks and sit in a chair of Macassar ebony wood before a sweeping, asymmetrical alabaster wall. The receptionists will get new uniforms, too (design yet to be unveiled); and Harry’s and Mindy’s will be supplanted by one nameless food-and-drink establishment.
Mr. Briskin declined to say how many millions the lobby and restaurant renovation would cost, though he did say that once the common area work is complete, the hotel rooms would be next.
Were she to receive some supernatural inkling of what’s to come, Helmsley might very well upbraid the help. This is the woman, after all, who allotted $3 million for the perpetual upkeep of her mausoleum at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, specifically requesting it be washed or steam-cleaned at least once yearly.
Doug Harmon, of brokerage Eastdil Secured, who sold an estimated $5 billion worth of Helmsley properties between 1997 and 1999, said she included legacy clauses in many of her real estate dealings.
“At 140 Broadway, as part of the sales transaction, and embedded in the sales contract, the buyers had to erect a new Harry Helmsley monument that adorns the entrance,” Mr. Harmon said. “When we sold the Helmsley Building at 230 Park, the buyers had to maintain the Helmsley name in perpetuity.
“It is a shame that Leona never really wanted to sell the Helmsley Hotel at 42nd street, because if she had, Leona would have insisted that Harry’s Bar be secured in its rightful place for many lifetimes,” Mr. Harmon added.
The trust overseeing the Helmsley estate’s remaining assets—which include this hotel, the Park Lane, Helmsley Middletowne and Helmsley Carlton House—declined to comment on its plans for the hotel.
We do know that last year, the trust tried to sell the Park Lane, but ultimately withdrew it from the market, hobbled like so many other would-be sellers by the economic downturn. If the trust ultimately hopes to liquidate its assets, these renovations would make the hotel, de-Helmsified in all but name, more marketable.
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