Volume 22, Number 03 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 29 - June 4, 2009
Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel
Top, rendering of the Cosmopolitan Hotel’s plans to expand onto the current location for Mary Ann’s Restaurant on W. Broadway, bottom. Middle, Cosmopolitan Cafe owner Craig Bero hopes to be in the same location where he said a cafe was almost 150 years ago.
Budget hotel from 2 centuries ago hopes to expand
By Julie Shapiro
One of the city’s oldest no-frills hotels is getting a facelift — and possibly an expansion.
The owners of the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Tribeca want to modernize the 165-year-old building by adding a roof deck and a new entrance, and they want to enlarge the hotel onto an adjacent lot, adding 25 hotel rooms in a new building.
The white, seven-story Cosmopolitan Hotel is a perennial choice for budget-minded travelers, with mini-loft rooms starting at $169 a night. The small lobby, basic décor and sparse amenities led a Frommer’s reviewer to write, “You must be a low-maintenance guest to be happy here.”
The modest 125-room hotel now appears to be gearing for an upgrade, in the form of a six-story addition next-door. The modern addition at Reade St. and W. Broadway, opposed by Community Board 1, would be red brick with an all-glass storefront. The design for the top floor is inspired by the attics of Tribeca’s older buildings, the project’s architect said. The new building would replace the two-story goldenrod stucco structure on that corner that now houses Mary Ann’s Mexican restaurant.
Although the recession has frozen construction financing and put most development projects on hold, Cosmopolitan Hotel co-owner Gerald Barad said last week that he had secured money for the expansion.
“It’s a little rough,” he said of getting the financing. When pressed, he said, “We have enough money to build.”
The hotel owners did not return phone calls this week and have not given a total cost estimate for the project or a timeline for when they want it to be complete.
In addition to money, Barad and fellow owner Jay Wartski will also need approval from the city Landmarks Preservation Commission to move forward, since the hotel and adjacent lot are in the Tribeca South Historic District.
Architect Matthew Gottsegen said the city is unlikely to oppose the demolition of the Mary Ann’s building, which has little remaining historic fabric. Gottsegen described the squat, bright building as an anomaly among the rest of the well-preserved historic district.
“The Reade St. corner is like a chipped tooth on this beautiful row of teeth,” Gottsegen said as he presented his design for the new building to Community Board 1’s Landmarks Committee last week.
The Cosmopolitan Hotel owners also want to add an elevator bulkhead to the existing hotel and expand the hotel’s W. Broadway entrance, displacing the Cosmopolitan Cafe, which opened in 2007.
At a meeting last Thursday, C.B. 1 members said they support the Cosmopolitan Hotel’s owners, who have been in place for 20 years. However, the board vociferously opposed the hotel’s expansion project, objecting to the new building’s design, the displacement of small businesses and the owners’ unwillingness to return to the board with revisions. The community board’s opinion is advisory.
“We’re at the tipping point where if we let this get approved, it’s another example of us just destroying what’s left of the wonderful character of that part of Tribeca,” said Roger Byrom, chairperson of the Landmarks Committee. He objected to the addition’s glassy base and called the design “uninteresting.”
Bruce Ehrmann, co-chairperson of the committee, said the design looked cheap.
“It’s bland infill — let’s call it what it is,” Ehrmann said. “It’s not bad infill, it’s just bland infill. And that being the case, I personally would prefer to leave things alone.”
At those words, Barad, one of the owners, bristled.
“It’s not as if we didn’t attempt to build it as beautiful as we can,” Barad said. “We didn’t tell our architect to make it kind of nice…. I think it looks good.”
Corie Sharples, an architect who recently joined the board, complimented the design’s historic details, which she said were authentic rather than faux historic. Still, she, too, said the all-glass storefront should be toned down.
Other board members objected to the design for the expanded W. Broadway entrance, which they likened to a nursing home or hospital.
The expanded entrance will displace the Cosmopolitan Cafe, a restaurant Craig Bero opened in 2007, inspired by the hotel’s history. The Cosmopolitan Hotel was built in 1844 and the space where the cafe now sits was a ladies waiting room and tearoom going back as far as 1863, Bero said.
Physically, the Cosmopolitan Hotel building has been through many changes since then. It originally had only four-and-a-half stories, but later grew to six and then seven stories. Balconies and window bays appeared and disappeared. Throughout the alterations, the building remained a hotel.
Bero’s cafe represents a return to pieces of that history. Bero scoured the neighborhood for the antiques that now fill the Cosmopolitan Cafe, which has a European vibe and is featured prominently on the hotel’s Web site. Like the historic objects, the cafe’s location is an important part of its identity as it represents a tie to the past, Bero said.
The hotel’s owners have promised to keep Bero’s cafe in some form, but Bero said he couldn’t imagine it in another place.
“[The location] is what makes the cafe so special,” Bero said. “To transfer that somewhere else, I don’t know.”
If the hotel’s plans move forward, the neighborhood would also lose Mary Ann’s, the Tribeca outpost of a Mexican restaurant that started in Chelsea and has since expanded around Manhattan and into the suburbs. Representatives at Mary Ann’s did not respond to requests for comment.
Ehrmann, from the community board, said Tribeca has lost too many neighborhood restaurants recently, whether to the recession or new development.
“All our other such places are disappearing one by one,” Ehrmann said, listing Franklin Station, Socrates Restaurant and others. “It’s something that everyone loves that’s being pushed out.”
Ehrmann and Byrom requested that the hotel owners return to the community board next month with a revised proposal, but lawyer Frederick Becker declined to do so. Instead, the team will present the design to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which has the final say, on June 2. Becker said the L.P.C. likely would not approve the design at the first hearing, and the architect would incorporate the community’s comments along with the L.P.C.’s comments into a revised design next month.
Ehrmann and other board members were not pleased.
“We’re saying we want a voice,” Ehrmann said. “I feel offended by your approach to us.”
Ehrmann was also angry that Becker blamed some aspects of the design — like the institutional new W. Broadway entrance — on L.P.C. staff, who requested that the architect change the design “six times in as many weeks,” Becker said. Ehrmann said it was “preposterous” to fault L.P.C. staff.
Lisi de Bourbon, L.P.C. spokesperson, said the commission’s staff met with the architect, but “the design hadn’t evolved much since our involvement.”
C.B. 1’s Landmarks Committee unanimously passed a resolution opposing the project, which the full board echoed Tuesday night.
After the Landmarks Committee meeting, Gottsegen, the architect, called the community board disrespectful. Becker said the board was being negative and was unwilling to work with them.
“Someone is trying to put money into the economy,” Becker said. “What do they want us to do?”