A New Melting Pot

Lower East Side/East Village A3

Can the Lower East Side handle so many hotels rising in the area?

Nighttime lounge space at Hotel Indigo
Nighttime lounge space at Hotel Indigo

The neighborhood once considered “America’s Melting Pot” will see nine planned hotels open over the next two years, part of a recent surge of hotels being built in the city. In April, there were about 29,000 hotel rooms Downtown, almost 35 percent more than at the end of 2009, according to hotel industry analyst firm STR. But the tourism boom may be slowing down.

Sean Hennessey, founder of hotel advisory firm Lodging Advisors, told the Commercial Observer in June that he thinks the rising dollar is going to be a deterrent to many foreign visitors: “If you’re in from London or Europe, you’re not saying New York is a bargain now.”

Still, the neighborhood does not have many high-end hotels, with exceptions like Hotel on Rivington, which was built in 2004 and features large rooms, balconies, soaking tubs and the trendy nightclub Viktor & Spoils on the ground floor. Ian Schrager’s hotel and condo project, Public Hotel at 215 Chrystie Street, is under construction. (Schrager memorably described the project in an interview with the New York Times last year as “tough lux” and “refined gritty.”) Above the hotel will be 11 luxury residences; eight have already sold. (Fashion photographer Mario Testino is one of the buyers.)

Other hoteliers are also tapping demand for a street-smart vibe while also offering amenities such as pools, gyms, rooftop bars and hip restaurants like The John Lamb from restaurateur John Valentine (who previously ran FireBird, a Russian restaurant in Midtown, now closed), which is set to open in a still-unnamed hotel at 119 Orchard Street. Meanwhile, the new 300-room Hotel Indigo on 171 Ludlow Street is accepting reservations now for stays starting September 2015 and its website says the hotel will be “infused with street art” and will show work from artists from the neighborhood, such as graffiti artist Lee Quinones.

Of course, these new hotels and other developments in the neighborhood are not without their share of controversy. Many of them are displacing long-standing institutions, such as the Chinatown Community Center on 223-225 Bowery, which was operated by the Salvation Army and is now being converted into an Ace Hotel. Gawker reported the sale with the headline: “Last Poor Place on The Bowery Sold to Rich People.”

Construction is also impacting the neighborhood’s character in other ways. Sara Romanoski, an urban planner and co-founder of the community group L.E.S. Dwellers, said that at one point she had construction sites on three sides of her apartment building, two of which were hotel projects. She is concerned the hotels being built are out of context with the neighborhood’s scale and isn’t convinced the Lower East Side will attract enough tourists to fill them.

“These are big spaces that are being put in,” she said, noting an estimated 800 to 900 hotel rooms are going up within nine small blocks. “I question the demand of the hotel market here, and how much of it is just real estate speculation. In the meantime, there’s so much loss and damage done.” 

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Median sale prices

Studio         $617,000
1 bed           $725,000
2 beds         $1,407,500
3 beds         $2,999,995
> 3 beds      $3,995,000[/column]

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Median rents

Studio         $2,198
1 bed           $2,700
2 beds         $3,500
3 beds         $4,595
>3 beds      $6,998