PLEASE SUPPORT W42ST
W42ST runs on limited resources to keep Hell’s Kitchen connected, updated and upbeat. Access is totally free. Please consider supporting what we do so that we can continue our work!
The latest move in a high-stakes Monopoly game — where city officials and developers use properties, unions and people seeking shelter as pieces — has put Midtown’s Paramount Hotel in the spotlight.
A historic, French Renaissance-style hotel constructed in 1927, the Paramount closed in March 2020 and has yet to reopen, despite New Yoirk City hotel occupancy being at 87 percent of pre-pandemic levels. According to Crain’s New York Business, Paramount building owner, developer Aby Rosen of RFR Realty, was interested in potentially converting the nearly 600-room hotel into below-market residential units by way of selling the property to supportive housing organization Breaking Ground.
In February, Breaking Ground made an application to Community Board 5 for the conversion of the Paramount Hotel into 510 supportive housing units, with approximately 60% for special needs homeless singles and 40% for low-income single adults. The plan also included a 136-bed Safe Haven — a transitional residential program for street homeless single adults. After public notices appeared on lampposts around the hotel and nearby Restaurant Row, there was local opposition and the application was withdrawn from the agenda of the CB5 Land Use, Housing and Zoning Committee.
Rosen and RFR sold another property, a Jehovah’s Witnesses hotel at 90 Sands Street in DUMBO to Breaking Ground in 2018, but a deal on the Paramount has not been inked. City officials passed a law in October 2021 mandating that hotels not yet reopened pay a severance of $500 per employee per week or $15,000 per employee, leaving exceptions for hotels in the process of renovation or conversion to other uses. The Paramount, not currently open, has also not been deemed for conversion — in part due to resistance from the Hotel and Gaming Trades Council, the union for hotel workers of New York and New Jersey.
Under the Housing Our Neighbors With Dignity Act (HONDA), signed into law in 2021, hotels to be converted into housing must gain approval for any changes made from the hotel workers union and buy out workers to end their contract. Hotel and Gaming Trades Council President Rich Maroko says that, while the union supports the HONDA program, the hotel is in a prime tourist area of Midtown Manhattan and should reopen, allowing 170 Paramount workers to keep their jobs.
Maroko told W42ST: “After more than two devastating years of COVID, preserving and bringing back high-quality hospitality jobs is key to rebuilding New York’s tourism industry. We’re pleased that the Paramount will be reopening this fall, giving 170 hotel workers the ability to return to work and put food on the table for their families. We are also proud of our work advocating for smart conversion policies that support the creation of affordable housing, which should never have to come at the expense of permanent hospitality jobs that working class New Yorkers rely on. Having seen the thousands of hotel workers brought to the brink of financial disaster from hotel closures, any opportunity we have to protect hotel jobs is one we unapologetically take with great pride and the distinct purpose of helping the city’s hospitality industry fully and fairly recover.”
In an opinion piece for Gotham Gazette in February 2022, Breaking Ground CEO Brenda Rosen countered that the neighborhood had benefitted from similar hotel to housing conversions. She wrote: “In the early ‘90s, Midtown was riddled with the same issues of violence and homelessness. In 1990, Breaking Ground bought and converted as-of-right the former Times Square Hotel into 652 units of affordable and supportive housing for homeless and low-income men and women. We anchored this building with a robust on-site social services program, which has consistently delivered crucial assistance to meet each resident’s needs — from treating their chronic issues to getting access to healthcare and helping with job placement – and that has resulted in 98% of its residents remaining housed year after year.”
Rosen argued that “The Paramount Hotel and the Hudson River Hotel are two examples of existing, vacant Midtown buildings that could quickly result in several hundred homes for those living unsheltered on the streets of Midtown and others in need of stable housing with services.”
While they haven’t been converted into permanent housing, several other hotels in Midtown have already been temporarily repurposed as homeless shelters. However, not all hotels face a future in the hospitality industry or as housing. The Hotel Pennsylvania is now being demolished to make way for Vornado property PENN15 (but not before catching fire). It was previously repurposed as a homeless shelter before being shuttered.
In Hell’s Kitchen, the Travel Inn on W42nd Street (just west of 10th Avenue) began this month to house homeless New Yorkers with health complications (after a previous stint as a temporary shelter for families) and the Skyline Hotel welcomed 300 families to its 10th Avenue rooms in June. The Washington Jefferson Hotel on W51st Street and the Holiday Inn on W48th Street, the Comfort Inn on W44th St, the Cachet Hotel on W42nd Street and The Watson on W57th Street (as well as many other Midtown hotels) also served as temporary shelters during the pandemic. Though the Washington Jefferson, Cachet, Holiday Inn and Comfort Inn have since resumed operations as hotels. The Watson remains shuttered “until further notice” and has undergone a change of ownership.
On W58th Street, the Hudson Hotel has been closed since the start of the pandemic. In May, it was announced that 866-room hotel had been purchased by an anonymous buyer who planned to convert the 24-story building into a 438-unit residential development with office and commercial space. The Commercial Observer reported the buyer had borrowed $207m for the purchase and redevelopment costs.
As for the future of hotels converted to shelters? Manhattan Community Board 4 plans a meeting between community members, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and shelter providers regarding the Skyline and Travel Inn, as well as addressing the possibility of a permanent shelter run by Homes for the Homeless at 519 W49th Street. Hospitality group BD Hotels, meanwhile, has filed paperwork to transform The Travel Inn into a luxury 39-story mixed-use tower with residential units and retail.
Governor Hochul and Mayor Adams — the latter known widely for his polarizing campaigns against homeless encampments as well as turning to landlords who profit off of poorly-managed temporary hotel shelters — are enthusiastic about HONDA, seeing it as a solution for both struggling hotels and New Yorkers seeking housing. Said Adams in a statement: “We are facing a homelessness crisis and an affordable housing crisis, but, with the help of our partners in Albany, we can work to tackle them both with one tool. By repurposing underused hotels, we can create supportive housing faster and cheaper. We can make affordable, permanent housing available to families, seniors, and any New Yorker in need, including our neighbors experiencing homelessness.”
For now, the Paramount remains vacant, with a note on the website that it plans to reopen to visitors on September 1. Within the hotel building, the Hamilton Shop and the Sony Hall still operate. W42ST reached out to RFR Realty and BD Hotels and have not heard back. Breaking Ground declined to comment on this story.