Midtown Monopoly — Paramount Stays as Hotel, Pennsylvania Going, Hudson to be Apartments, Skyline, and Travel Inn are homeless shelters
The latest move in a high-stakes Monopoly game — where city officials and developers use properties, syndicates, and people seeking shelter as coins — has thrust Midtown’s Paramount Hotel into the spotlight.
A historic French Renaissance-style hotel built in 1927, the Paramount closed in March 2020 and has yet to reopen, though New Yoirk City hotel occupancy is at 87% of pre-war levels. pandemic. According to Crain’s New York Business, the owner of the Paramount building, developer Aby Rosen of RFR Realty, potentially wanted to convert the nearly 600-room hotel into below-market residential units by selling the property to the housing organization with Breaking Ground support services.
In February, Breaking Ground filed an application with Community Board 5 to convert the Paramount Hotel into 510 supportive housing units, with approximately 60% for homeless singles with special needs and 40% for low-income single adults. The plan also included a 136-bed Safe Haven – a transitional residential program for homeless single adults on the streets. After public notices appeared on lampposts around the hotel and near Restaurant Row, there was local opposition and the request was removed from the agenda of the CB5 Land Use Committee , housing and zoning.
Rosen and RFR sold another property, a Jehovah’s Witnesses hotel at 90 Sands Street to DUMBO at Breaking Ground in 2018, but a Paramount deal was not signed. City officials passed a law in October 2021 requiring hotels not yet reopened to pay severance pay of $500 per employee per week or $15,000 per employee, leaving exceptions for hotels undergoing renovations or conversion to other uses. Paramount, which is not currently open, was also not deemed suitable for conversion, in part due to resistance from the Hotel and Gaming Trades Council, the New York hotel workers’ union and from New Jersey.
Under the HONDA (Housing Our Neighbors With Dignity Act), signed into law in 2021, hotels to be converted into housing must obtain approval for any changes made by the hotel workers’ union and buy out workers to end to their contract. Hospitality and Gaming Trades Council Chairman Rich Maroko said that while the union supports the HONDA program, the hotel is in a prime tourist area of Midtown Manhattan and is expected to 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 essential to rebuilding New York’s tourism industry. We are pleased that Paramount is reopening this fall, giving 170 hotel employees the opportunity to return to work and put food on the table for their families. We are also proud of our work for smart conversion policies that support the creation of affordable housing, which should never come at the expense of the permanent hotel jobs that working-class New Yorkers rely on. After seeing thousands of hospitality workers brought to the brink of financial disaster due to hotel closures, any opportunity we have to protect hospitality jobs is one we shamelessly seize with great pride and with the distinct goal of helping the city’s hospitality industry recover fully and fairly.
In an opinion piece for Gotham Gazette in February 2022, Breaking Ground CEO Brenda Rosen countered that the neighborhood had benefited 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 purchased and converted the former Times Square Hotel into 652 affordable, supportive housing units for homeless, low-income men and women. We have anchored this building with a strong on-site social services program, which has always provided crucial assistance to meet the needs of each resident – from treating their chronic conditions to accessing health care and assistance with placement – and which has enabled 98% of its residents to remain housed year after year.
Rosen argued that “The Paramount Hotel and the Hudson River Hotel are two examples of existing and vacant Midtown buildings that could quickly create several hundred homes for those living homeless on the streets of Midtown and others who need stable housing with services.
Although not converted into permanent housing, several other hotels in Midtown have already been temporarily repurposed as homeless shelters. However, not all hotels have a future in the hospitality industry or as accommodation. The Pennsylvania Hotel is being demolished to make way for Vornado’s PENN15 property (but not before it catches fire). It was previously redeveloped as a homeless shelter before being closed.
In Hell’s Kitchen, the Travel Inn on W42nd Street (just west of 10th Avenue) this month began housing homeless New Yorkers with medical conditions (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 (along with many other Midtown hotels) also served as shelters temporary during the pandemic. Although the Washington Jefferson, Cachet, Holiday Inn, and Comfort Inn have since resumed operations as hotels. The Watson remains closed “until further notice” and has changed ownership.
On W58th Street, the Hudson Hotel has been closed since the start of the pandemic. In May, it was announced that an 866-room hotel had been purchased by an unnamed buyer who planned to convert the 24-story building into a 438-unit residential development with office and commercial space. The Commercial Observer reported that the buyer borrowed $207 million for purchase and redevelopment costs.
As for the future of hotels converted into refuges? Manhattan Community Board 4 is planning a meeting between community members, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), and shelter providers regarding the Skyline and Travel Inn, as well as the possibility of a permanent shelter run by Homes for the Homeless at 519 W49th Street. Hotel group BD Hotels, meanwhile, has filed paperwork to turn The Travel Inn into a 39-story mixed-use luxury tower with residential and retail units.
Governor Hochul and Mayor Adams — the latter widely known for his polarizing campaigns against homeless encampments as well as reaching out to landlords who profit from poorly run temporary hotel shelters — are enthusiastic about HONDA, viewing it as a solution for struggling hotels and New Yorkers looking for accommodation. Adams said in a statement, “We face a homelessness crisis and an affordable housing crisis, but, with the help of our partners in Albany, we can work to solve them with one tool. By reallocating underutilized hotels, we can create supportive housing faster and at a lower cost. We can make affordable, permanent housing available to families, seniors, and any New Yorker in need, including our homeless neighbors.
For now, the Paramount remains vacant, with a note on the website that it plans to reopen to visitors on September 1. In the hotel building, the hamilton The shop and the Sony Hall are still operating. W42ST contacted RFR Realty and BD Hotels and received no response. Breaking Ground declined to comment for this story.