Christina Jelski
Christina Jelski

"Never let a good crisis go to waste," Winston Churchill famously said.

It's a quote that likely resonates with many within hospitality. For much of last year, hotel owners across the country were often scrambling to find -- or create -- some kind of silver lining amid the pandemic's devastating downturn.

For some properties, the crisis proved to be a uniquely apt time for renovations. Rather than letting the downtime go to waste, those with the capital chose to leverage the Covid-related lull in business by embarking on extensive remodels, either closing completely or in phases in order to catch up on long overdue repairs and refurbishments.

Take, for example, New York's 610-room Park Lane Hotel, built in 1971.

Not familiar with it? It sits sandwiched between the higher-profile Plaza and Ritz-Carlton New York Central Park hotels, all three properties on the same Central Park South block between Fifth and Sixth avenues in upper midtown Manhattan.

But despite its enviable location, the Park Lane Hotel was, prior to the pandemic, a property generally considered well past its prime.

"I had been working in Central Park [area hotels] for nearly a decade, and Park Lane was never in my comp set or on any of my STR reports," said Prince Sanders, the Park Lane Hotel's managing director. "I had walked by it several times but didn't ever pay it much notice or attention."

After Sanders was approached by the Park Lane's ownership group and management team, however, his interest in the property was piqued. He joined the hotel's leadership team in December 2019.

"I came to see the property, and it really knocked my socks off," said Sanders. "I saw the structure, the architecture of the building, the size of the rooms. It just screamed potential to me."

Although plans for a nearly $90 million, top-to-bottom reinvention were already in play prior to Covid, the pandemic created a unique opportunity for the Park Lane to embark on its ambitious plans with minimal interruption. (Though the property did quietly continue to operate throughout the pandemic, rooms and amenities were available on a far more limited basis during the phased renovation process.)

Scheduled to reopen its doors as part of Preferred Hotels & Resorts' upscale LVX Collection this November, the Park Lane will still feature 610 guestrooms and suites, each now fully updated. F&B venues crafted by restaurateur and nightlife impresario Scott Sartiano will include a new rooftop bar perched atop the building's 47th floor. The bar plans to bill itself as "the only rooftop venue on Central Park South."

New York's tourism comeback has certainly been rocky, but Sanders is optimistic that the Park Lane Hotel will quickly find its footing this fall.

Sanders himself knows a thing or two about second acts. A former dancer with the acclaimed Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, an injury forced him to abandon plans for a career in dance. He pivoted to hospitality, first cutting his teeth under the W lifestyle brand and later moving to the Ritz-Carlton and Edition flags. Just prior to joining the Park Lane, Sanders served as general manager of the Trump International Hotel & Tower New York.

Sanders seems determined to never let time go to waste. In addition to spearheading the Park Lane's relaunch, he has also authored two children's books. The most recent of those, "The Extraordinarily Ordinary Life of Prince: Everybody's Good at Something" (Dorrance Publishing, 2021), was published this August. The semiautobiographical book, he said, is all about being confident about one's talents, even when one doesn't quite fit in.

It's a message Sanders is hoping to infuse into the Park Lane. Although the property's high-end positioning suggests a level of exclusivity, Sanders insists that the revitalized hotel will offer what he calls a more "inclusive" hospitality experience.

Some hotels, Sanders said, "can have very traditional cultures, and not all people feel welcome in those environments. I can't compete with the history of the Plaza or the reputation of the Ritz-Carlton, but what I can do is create something that's unexpected that people would never believe would be on Central Park. We're going to be a little different, a little off center." 

CORRECTED: This report was corrected on Nov. 2 to say that Prince Sanders had been a dancer with the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. The original report incorrectly stated that he danced with the Joffrey Ballet School in New York.

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