Volume 16, Number 26 | Nov. 25 - Dec. 1, 2003

BUSINESS


Regent to close ballroom and hotel doors

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Bad news for most Downtowners might be good news for Wall St. workers seeking a shorter commute as the Regent Wall Street Hotel closes in January, possibly to be converted into apartments.
A hotel spokesperson confirmed last week that the hotel would be shutting its doors early next year. Hotel officials did not return calls for comment on why the Regent would be closing, but the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 contributed to a citywide slump in hotel business, particularly in Lower Manhattan. Some Downtown construction projects that were planned as hotels before 9/11 have been redesigned as apartment buildings.
Madelyn Wils, chairperson of Community Board 1, said at a meeting last week that the Regent would be developed into condominiums. She lamented the loss of the hotel.
“I think it’s an extreme blow for Lower Manhattan,” Wils said.
Prices for a night at the Regent range from about $300 per room to $10,000 for the “Once Upon a Regent” package, which includes a night in a deluxe loft suite, limousine service around the city, a personalized gourmet dinner and exclusive use of the hotel’s stunning, 12,000-square-foot ballroom during the meal with a string quartet accompaniment, special baths, and other amenities.

Downtown Express file photo by Elisabeth Robert
Friends of Community Board 1 held a fundraiser at the Regent Wall Street’s ballroom in October.
A source close to the Regent said that there were no plans to sell the property. Phone calls to the office of Regent owner Sidney Kimmel were referred to a spokesperson.
The spokesperson, Matthew Traub, said in a statement that the hotel’s owners “are absolutely committed to seeing that any new use maintains the dignity and beauty of this structure consistent with the needs of the community.”
Downtowners hope that no matter what becomes of the hotel, its ballroom will remain available for community functions. Community Board 1 held its gala fundraiser there last month.
“Every major event that’s happened Downtown in the last five years has happened there,” said Judy Duffy, assistant district manager of Community Board 1.
Among the events held in the ballroom were Liza Minnelli’s ill-fated union with David Gest, a visit from the Dalai Lama, and Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s speech on his vision for Lower Manhattan.
“The ballroom was great,” Bloomberg told Downtown Express last week. The mayor also expressed regret for the 200 jobs that will be lost when the Regent closes.
The New York Post reported last week that despite Cipriani’s denials, the restaurant group would return to the ballroom that it managed for part of the late 1990s. A receptionist at Cipriani headquarters refuted that claim and said that Giuseppe Cipriani was not available for further comment.
At least one Downtowner would be disappointed if the ballroom is not up for sale.
“I’d love to bid against Cipriani for that property,” said Billy Reilly, owner of Apogee Events, whose properties include the Tribeca Rooftop on Desbrosses St. at Hudson St. “I know my food is better than Cipriani,” Reilly added.
The Wall Street Regent, built in 1842, first served as a bank. The structure is an internal and external city landmark, a spokesperson for the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission said, which means that owners must apply to the city for a permit if they want to do anything to the building outside of routine maintenance. Landmarks does not regulate the uses of buildings.
Bloomberg, in response to questions from Downtown Express, said last week that he would need to learn more about why the historic hotel is pulling up the welcome mat.
“Wall Street’s a problem because of the security of getting in — whether that contributed, I just don’t know,” the mayor added.
Since 9/11, security barricades around the New York Stock Exchange have made the area harder to navigate. At 55 Wall St., the hotel stands just around the corner from the sexchange.
The Ritz Carlton at Battery Park City, located just off the West Side Highway, is more easily accessed, and that might have contributed to the 30 percent growth the Ritz experienced this year, said Dan Flannery, area general manager for the Ritz hotels in New York.
“Our location makes us much more of a weekend destination for high-end leisure customers,” Flannery said.
Flannery said that compared with the Regent, the Ritz has more flexibility accommodating different sized social and business groups. While the Regent’s ballroom is “magnificent,” Flannery said, “it’s kind of all or nothing,” since smaller parties were less likely use the space.
For her part, C.B. 1’s Duffy said that she hopes that the community will still be able to rent out the ballroom. She sighed over the room’s ornate details, including Wedgewood rotunda.
Said Duffy, “They’ll never be built like that again.”

Elizabeth@DowntownExpress.com


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