Shortly before noon last Thursday, a woman with a German accent stepped to the front desk of the Chelsea Hotel, and demanded in clipped English her reservation.
“The hotel’s closed,” said a distracted employee behind the desk. He was holding a severance letter presented earlier by the hotel’s new owner, The Chetrit Group, led by the enigmatic real estate investor Joseph Chetrit, whose holdings include the Willis Tower in Chicago, North America’s tallest building, and over 4.9 million square feet of commercial space in New York City.
“Closed? I have a reservation, please,” the woman said.
She got no answer. Sensing something, she tried again.
“Is this the InterContinental?”
“No, no,” said the employee. The Observer stifled a laugh—the InterContinental is a top-shelf hotel, down West 44th Street from The New York Observer Building, while the Chelsea is… the Chelsea, New York’s craziest inn, a shambling legend that might, under Mr. Chetrit’s purview, morph into a boutique hotel.
No one quite knows, though, even more than a week after Mr. Chetrit closed Aug. 1 on his $80 million purchase. The word from industry sources is that he will turn it into a fancier version of its current, elderly aunt self. But nothing’s been filed with the Buildings Department; the tenants that we managed to talk to don’t know much; and the former employees declined to talk (as did their union and Mr. Chetrit).
A source close to the situation, however, said the new owner has agreed to assume the collective bargaining agreement covering 37 unionized employees; that he is paying them through the end of August even though most have been laid off; and that some might, in fact, return when the boutique—or whatever—opens.
We did make it upstairs last Thursday, past Mr. Chetrit’s people and that distracted skeletal staff (the lobby, in fact, was rather busy; an anomaly, post-Chetrit buy, a tenant assured us). We found all of the former hotel rooms—reservations ceased at the end of July—whitewashed and padlocked, a veritable real estate Passover marking them for whatever changes may come.
Meanwhile, for the tenants spread over at least 79 rooms, the place is much quieter and the elevators come much quicker. And they did get a cooing letter, dated Aug. 4, from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Thomas Duane and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried.
They noted that Mr. Chetrit’s renovations will take about a year, and that the tenants should call if anything looks amiss. Otherwise, they are to sit tight and watch along with everyone else.
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