WHAT YOU GET IN A HOTEL CONDO

by C. J. Hughes, New York Times
Date Publish: Sunday February 12, 2006

TURNING hotel rooms into condos is not new in New York City, but three of the city's best-known hotels -- the St. Regis, the Plaza and the Essex House -- are now fully embracing the trend.

So who buys these units and what exactly do they get for their money? Brokers say the buyers are often foreign businessmen who travel frequently to New York or empty-nesters looking for something in the thick of it all. They might end up with a condo that has less square footage than similar condos at the same price, but they do get to call some of the city's best addresses home.

Still, brokers said, the main reason for moving into a hotel is service. Residents get the same access to white-glove treatment as hotel guests: breakfast in bed, concierge service and evening cocktails.

Some of those amenities are included in the building's common charges. Others, however, need to be paid for à la carte. Figuring out the difference can be trickier than walking up the narrow marble staircase of the St. Regis with a tray of drinks.

If you do order drinks at the St. Regis, it will cost you extra. Same if you have the chauffeur who drives the house Bentley take you beyond a 10-block radius from the hotel. But keep it within that circle, and it's included in the annual fee.

That fee is $34,800 for anybody who buys one of the 24 full-ownership condos -- studios and one- and two-bedrooms -- being sold beginning this week, according to Scott Geraghty, the hotel's general manager. Mr. Geraghty said the condos would start at $1.6 million.

Then there are the St. Regis's "fractional" ownership condos, where buyers are guaranteed residency for 28 days, though they can't stay for 28 days in a row. And when they swing through the city for another stay, they are not guaranteed the same room. There are to be 22 of these "fractional" units, which will cost $300,000 to $600,000, for studios and one- and two-bedrooms suites. Annual fees are $16,000.

The St. Regis promotes the chance to own a piece of New York architecture, but the Plaza, set to reopen in 2007, is marketing the opportunity to own a stunning city view, of Central Park -- that is, if you buy one of the 182 condos that require full ownership.

When refurbished, these colossal units, which can measure 5,600 square feet and include terraces and fireplaces, could sell for $33 million, said Lloyd Kaplan, a spokesman for Elad Properties, the building owner.

But neither that price, nor the annual maintenance fee, will cover amenities like dog walking or getting the concierge to buy theater tickets. For those, residents will need to pay extra.

A similar pay-to-play arrangement will apply to 152 smaller units in the Plaza, located on the West 58th Street side, and which Mr. Kaplan said should be referred to as "hotel-condos with restrictions." Although details are still being worked out, it essentially means that in buying one of those units, you're buying a home that you will live in only four months a year.

A similar arrangement could be in the works for the Essex House a few blocks west on Central Park South, now called the Jumeirah Essex House, after being sold to the Dubai Investment Group in January.

Though the building has had condos under its roof for more than 30 years, a spokeswoman confirmed that there were changes afoot in the building's makeup.

Currently, there are 147 condos and 600 hotel rooms, and owners, depending on square footage and other factors, pay $1,200 to $6,500 a month in common charges, though most are around $2,400 a month, according to Stan Hancock, a broker for the building.

Similar to the St. Regis and Plaza, that fee covers basics like 24-hour building security, health club access, incoming calls on a house phone and cable TV service.

Continue reading the main story
But to eat foie-gras-and-tapioca ravioli from Alain Ducasse's ground-floor restaurant, residents will have to take the elevator downstairs and pay in full for it, like everybody else.

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