It’s a New York icon with its distinctive signage. The New Yorker Hotel, at 481 Eighth Avenue, has a history dating back to 1930, playing host to world-famous figures like John F Kennedy, Fidel Castro and Joe DiMaggio even as ownership has shifted. Is the story of this iconic hotel about to take another twist?
Yellowstone Real Estate Investments, a private equity firm that focuses on opportunistic real estate transactions, acquired the hotel’s $106 million loan debt earlier this month, paving the way for new ownership – as reported in the Commercial Observer. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because two years ago, Yellowstone bought the Watson Hotel on W57th Street for an estimated $175 million. The Watson has since housed asylum seekers and migrants.
The stunning New Yorker was built in 1930, and at the time was the largest hotel in the city. Its current owners are the Unification Church — better known as the Moonies — who purchased the building in 1976 for $5 million. The Church, founded by Reverend Sun Myung Moon, who considered himself to be the second coming of Christ, courted controversy and made headlines with its mass weddings at Madison Square Garden.
The hotel was used as housing for unmarried members of the church and administration until the early 1990s. In 2013, the property underwent a $30 million renovation and a few months later was rebranded as a Wyndham hotel. In 2019, it was at the center of a legal dispute with a man named Mickey Barretto, who filed deed documents at a price of $189 million with the Department of Finance, transferring ownership of the hotel to his nonprofit, Mickey Barreto Missions. He claimed to own the hotel and told the New York Post, “I never committed any fraud.”
It’s unclear whether the Unitarian Church is actively pursuing a sale, or Yellowstone is maneuvering a takeover of the hotel. The church’s tax status and finances have been the subject of decades-long speculation and court battles. Rev Moon was convicted of income tax fraud in 1982 and served 13 months in prison. More recently, the Unification Church has contracted to sell their 260 acre Theological Seminary, up for sale for $15 million in Barrytown, New York.
The brilliant inventor and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla lived in the New Yorker from 1933-1943 in rooms 3327 and 3328. He died on the third floor of the hotel and a plaque was erected in his memory. In an interesting twist to the tale, Tesla’s scientific papers, the “Death Rays”, vanished from the safe in his hotel room shortly after his death and were never found.
Despite its turbulent and long history, the New Yorker remains as elegant and eye-catching as ever, with 1.1 million square feet of property and 1,000 hotel rooms. There are also 140,000 square feet of student housing, 110,000 square feet of office space, and 16,000 square feet of retail space. Now, its future is yet to be determined.
The debt was initially issued to the Hotel in 2016 and M&T Bank, the property’s former lender, had been searching for a buyer since July, with final bids due by August 10. The senior mortgage has a loan-to-value ratio of 43 percent, which currently values the property at around $246 million.
M&T Bank declined to comment. Yellowstone Real Estate Investments, the Unification Church and Wyndham Hotels did not immediately respond to requests for comment.