It remains a very sexy profession, if only in appearance. “I could dispel that idea pretty quickly if anyone follows me around for a day,” said Mr. Pomeranc, 36, who just returned to New York after opening a new hotel in Beverly Hills last week. “The energy of the night, opening the hotel to all of Hollywood and L.A., it was a really satisfying moment,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t two years of struggle to get to that moment, and every day it will involve a little more struggle to keep that going.”
Mr. Pomeranc’s company, Thompson Hotels, is also planning to open a number of new hotels in New York this spring, including one near Wall Street and another on the Lower East Side. About a year from now, Mr. Pomeranc said he also hopes to open a third hotel in Tribeca—where he will face off in direct competition with Mr. De Niro’s Greenwich Hotel.
“If that project helps establish Tribeca as an end destination for hotels at high rates, that only benefits me,” said Mr. Pomeranc, who was none too surprised by the big-name celebrities now encroaching on his turf. “When people have achieved a tremendous level of success in a creative field, they have this desire to transfer that creativity into another field of expression—I think that’s the attraction,” he said. “I don’t think they want to use it as another vehicle of fame because they’ve already achieved that.”
Such superstars have long turned to the hospitality sector when seeking to invest their talents and riches in some sort of side project. For a while, it seemed as if every single one of them was opening a restaurant or nightclub in New York.
Just last summer, singer Justin Timberlake and friends brought Memphis-style barbecue to Manhattan with the splashy opening of Southern Hospitality on the Upper East Side. Years earlier, his former girlfriend, pop star Britney Spears, tried to cook up a similar Southern style as part-owner of the ill-fated eatery NYLA.
Actor Stephen Baldwin launched Alaia and later Luahn in Union Square, and Sex and the City star Chris Noth was the real-life Mr. Big behind the Cutting Room on West 24th Street.
Some of these star-studded ventures proved spectacular business failures on a par with their celebrity proprietors’ own career-worst performances. Consider actor Sylvester Stallone’s widely panned 1995 box office flop Judge Dredd versus the twice-bankrupted Planet Hollywood franchise, which he helped launch alongside Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Times Square back in 1991.
Yet other celeb-tied enterprises rode the fame train to critical acclaim, furth
er bolstering their public persona, as well as their financial portfolio.
Mr. De Niro himself has partnered with a number of other famous investors, including Sean Penn, Russell Simmons and Bob and Harvey Weinstein, in the operation of Tribeca Grill, which opened in 1990; it’s an endeavor credited for elevating the profile of the entire neighborhood.
Mr. De Niro’s subsequent partnership with Chef Nobu Matsuhisa in launching the perennially popular Asian fusion restaurant Nobu on Hudson Street in 1994 not only further enhanced that emerging neighborhood vibe but also spawned 16 additional Nobu locations, including two others in New York.
Mr. Carter similarly parlayed the success of his sports-themed 40/40 club in West Chelsea into additional locations in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
For guys like them, hotels are the new restaurants, the eventual next step in celebrity entrepreneurship.
“I think it’s all good—each one of them has a distinctive personality and they can make their property reflect that personality,” said George Fertitta, CEO of the city’s tourism office, NYC & Company, who seems delighted by the additional marketing opportunities presented by new celebrity-run hotels. “It’s just another way that we can talk about all that New York has to offer,” he said.
It’s Mr. Fertitta’s job to be optimistic about all the hotel construction going on. After all, he’s in charge of Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to attract 50 million travelers annually to New York City by 2015. Hotel development plays a crucial role, of course, as high demand for rooms is squeezing the current supply, despite some 1,000 new hotel units getting built over the past year.
City projections point to a total of 13,000 new hotel rooms by 2010, with builders both famous and not. But not everyone buys into the big numbers.
“With a lot of these announced projects, I don’t necessarily think all of them are going to happen,” said Mr. Pomeranc. “The banking industry will weed out some projects. There still is a demand for more rooms. But this business is a combination of real-estate development, operations, service—it’s very complicated. And the snapshot in time like we have right now is not necessarily indicative of what the industry’s going to be for the next 10 years.
“It’s very important,” he added, “whether you’re a designer, a musician or an actor, that ultimately your partners and your operations team are experienced in the industry for a long time, because the longevity of these projects is going to hinge on true hotel-related aspects, not the association with the famous name.”