NEW YORK—In an effort to keep up with an influx of new competition and be in prime position to capture an expected uptick in business from a large-scale area project, the Wyndham New Yorker is progressing with a major, multi-phased renovation to refresh the historic property.
The 1,083-room hotel—which was rebranded to be part of the Wyndham Hotels & Resorts portfolio earlier this year after having long been a Ramada franchise—recently completed the first phase of the five-year renovation for some $30 million. The hotel, which is located on Eighth Avenue—across the street from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden—is owned by The Unification Church of the United States.
Wyndham New Yorker President and General Manager Ann Peterson—who has been with the property for nearly two years—said the nearby Hudson Yards redevelopment project on the West Side of Manhattan is expected to help generate a significant amount of group business on which the hotel is poised to capitalize.
But Peterson noted that project was not the only impetus for the renovation. “I think it’s important to keep up with the competition entering the market. There have been more than 10,000 rooms added—or in the process of being added—into this area of town. Most of them are limited-service, but we also have some larger brands coming on board. So, to remain competitive, we need to make sure we are as fresh as everyone else,” she said.
Keith Pierce, brand president, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, talked about the benefits of the redo as well. “From a brand perspective, we felt it was important to modernize the guestrooms and public spaces so as to meet and exceed travelers’ needs and expectations, while also maintaining historic elements and nodding to the hotel’s historic past,” he said.
The first phase of the project, which started last November, included a revitalized lobby, refresh of the exterior, the addition of 114 guestrooms, as well as renovations to the Grand Ballroom and meeting rooms and upgrades to the food & beverage outlets. New York-based design firm Stonehill & Taylor was selected for the project.
Peterson talked about the approach they took on the 43-story structure, which originally opened in 1930. “We’re trying to stay true to the Art Deco look of the building in a fresher, crisper, more-inviting way,” she said, adding that the lobby is still a work in progress because the 24-hour Tick Tock Diner is in the process of being renovated as well and, as such, the entire back half of the lobby will soon be changing. She further noted, “We freshened up everything that we could to have an immediate impact on the customers.”
Pierce offered the brand’s perspective on how the project has gone thus far. “We think the first phase has gone very well. We’ve seen great progress, there’s been great communication between the brand and the property, and the rooms that needed to be back in inventory are back as scheduled. We’re excited about the design and elements that are taking shape. It’s a large undertaking that we know will result in a great product that guests and customers will appreciate,” he said.
Peterson acknowledged that, as with any “as built” from 1929, there have been “plenty of surprises.” For example, the hotel decided to take out the tubs within the guest bathrooms and put in showers. That turned out to be a major undertaking when asbestos was found behind the walls, which had to be abated first.
She said of the newly added guestrooms, “They’re very bright but business oriented, but even the leisure customers like them,” and noted more rooms are expected to come online in the first quarter. Peterson added the hotel is “in the middle of the facade restoration… We’re trying to protect the look of the building, which has a lot of very intricate parts.” She noted all the original stone and terra-cotta is being restored. “We’re very excited about what it will look like,” she said.
The second phase, which is slated to begin in January 2015, will consist of aligning the existing rooms with the Wyndham brand’s color palette, as well as renovating the corridors incorporating new lighting, fresh paint and revived flooring. Peterson added that three new ballrooms are being built in the hotel’s lower level, a third restaurant is being added in what used to be an old bank vault and the first Presidential Suite is scheduled to be completed next spring.
With occupancy frequently well into the 90s, Peterson maintained the property performed well even prior to the renovation. However, she expects the hotel to garner higher rates as a result of the refresh. She said the hotel’s rates generally run in the mid-200s. “We’ve seen tremendous growth in the last two years as we’ve ventured into other areas, so our overall revenues have done substantially better than they’ve done in the past,” she said.
According to Wyndham, the ideal mix of business for a property of this size, and available function space would be 60% transient, 30% group and 10% contract.
Peterson noted that revenue has largely been driven by transient guests for the past several years, but the ratio is likely to change going forward. “We need to be able to branch out into the group market. I think—because of the businesses coming into this area—that makes perfect sense. What I would hope is that we would retain about 60% of our business from transient, and grow to about 40% for group. The intent is not to be a large association hotel, but to mirror the demographics of the area we’re located in,” she said.
Pierce underscored the hotel’s versatility. “This hotel generates great demand from individual business travel, as well as key corporate accounts/IBT business. Its proximity to the Javits Center and its central location, expansive meeting space and number of rooms is ideal for conference and convention business. International travel is strong, and it’s a great fit for transient guests visiting New York City,” he said.
To carry out the renovation plans and new vision for the hotel, Peterson brought in “some very seasoned, experienced department heads” to rebuild various departments. She brought in John Yazback, director of sales and marketing; Frank Cear, director of finance; Barry Rauch, director of operations; Will Reed, director of information technology; and Ray Gronau, director of human resources, to lead each respective department within the hotel.
Meanwhile, Pierce talked about the company’s earlier decision to rebrand the property. “It greatly strengthens the Wyndham brand’s presence in the market. Its expansive meeting space is incredibly important for groups and meetings business… We’ve been focusing on expanding the Wyndham name in key markets throughout the U.S. by adding strategic, city center properties like Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston and San Diego, and the rebranding of the New Yorker was a significant step in that strategy,” he said.
Peterson, who spent some 25 years with IHG—including a stint as the general manager at the Crowne Plaza Times Square—spoke of returning to New York with a clear purpose: “The one reason I wanted to come here is to take the hotel to a new level, and I think the timing is perfect,” she said.