The Waldorf-Astoria, the matriarch of the luxury brand that opened on Manhattan’s Park Ave. in 1931 as the largest hotel in the world and was bought by China’s Anbang Insurance Group for $1.95 billion in 2014, will close next spring and reopen about three years later with upwards of 1,000 of its 1,413 rooms converted into luxury condominium units.
Stories about the plans began to surface in the trades earlier this month but a piece by Craig Karmin in today’s Wall Street Journal is attracting wider attention.
“The changes will radically transform an 85-year-old institution that has played a storied role in American political and cultural life, Karmin writes. “Occupying a full city block on Park Avenue, the Waldorf gained worldwide attention for its luxury suites, lavish parties and famous guests. Every president since Herbert Hoover has stayed there, and it has been a New York home to celebrities such as Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Frank Sinatra, and the Duke of Windsor after he abdicated his throne to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson.”
Joe Anuta of Crain’s New York Businesswrote on June 14 that the conversion “would be consistent with a filing Anbang submitted to the city in early 2015, when it subdivided the building into different sections for condos, a hotel and retail. Anbang set aside 1.2 million square feet — approximately 75% of the building — for residential use, according to the document filed with the city's Department of Finance, though it did not specify how much space would be used for amenities or for hotel ballrooms.”
Karmin points out that the transition to mostly condominiums units would lead to the elimination of many of the 1,500 jobs at the Waldorf. He reports that Anbang and Hilton Worldwide Holdings, which manages the property, had reached severance agreements with hundreds of workers, according to sources.
For its part, Anbang admits something is in the works but says details will have to wait.
“We are currently developing conceptual plans and will share additional details once those plans are finalized,” an Anbang, spokesperson e-mailed Bloomberg after the WSJ’s story surfaced online. Hui-Yong Yu writes, “the scope and details of the renovation, as well as the exact timing and duration of the hotel’s closure, haven’t been decided, the company said.”
“The move comes as Chinese regulators question the insurer’s liquidity and business model and Manhattan’s $8 billion hotel industry last year showed signs of slowdown. All that piled on top of the core logistical challenges of operating a 1,400-key hotel like the Waldorf,” E.B. Solomont wrote in The Real Deal, which covers New York real estate news, on June 20.
“They can’t have a five-star hotel with that many rooms,” a source who met with Anbang executives in New York told Solomont. “Instead, according to the source, the insurer intends to upgrade the remaining rooms into a high-end, boutique hotel that appeals to international (and Asian) travelers,” Solomont wrote.
At a speech at Harvard last year, Anbang Chairman Wu Xiaohui said he “expected strong returns on the Waldorf investment,” and indicated that upgrades would be forthcoming.
Meanwhile, the brand has been growing every which way including up. It recently rolled out "Taste of Waldorf Astoria Unforgettable Experiences, a collection of property-specific packages highlighting the high-end gastronomy of each locale,” Forrest Cardamenis reported recently in Luxury Daily.
“The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book by Frank Caiafa, bar manager of the Waldorf chic Peacock Alley watering hole, is not merely a reissue but a celebration of all things imbibable, as well as the iconic hotel itself,” Jared Paul Stern writes for Maxim. It’s the first update of “one of the world's rarest, most classic cocktail books” since 1934.
And then there are the edifices themselves. Waldorf Astoria Dubai International Financial Centre is expected to open in Autumn 2017, joining “25 iconic properties in the world’s most sought-after destinations,” as a present press release would have it.
Those into social media can follow the brand on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, but that’s not quite the same as being on the Social Register now, is it (if you’ll pardon the mention)?