Essex House takes on new attitude under Jumeirah

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The iconic red rooftop sign of the Jumeirah Essex House on New York's Central Park South has served as a landmark for tourists lost in Central Park since the hotel opened in 1931.

Fast forward to today and, while the sign remains, nearly everything else at the 515-room hotel, owned by Dubai-based luxury hotel group Jumeirah, has changed.

The hotel is just finishing up a $90 million makeover that included a reduction in room count of 100 units and the simultaneous hiring of 50 additional staff members, or, in Jumeirah parlance, "colleagues." The final 17 guest rooms will be finished by the end of November, said hotel officials.

"We've not only restored Essex House to its former glory, but we've made significant strides in service delivery," said Frank van der Post, senior vice president, Americas for Jumeirah Group. "We're trying to strike a balance and bring Dubai-type service to North America."

Existing hotel staff underwent rigorous retraining along with the new hires.

"One of Jumeirah's hallmarks is that colleagues should greet guests before guests greet them," van der Post said. "It makes such an impact, especially in New York."

There were, of course, extensive changes to the hotel's physical plant, as well. The lobby has retained its art deco bones, but its look is now clean and contemporary, with white leather banquettes in a lounge where guests can order lunch or afternoon tea.

Another addition to the lobby is the Artists in Residence program, featuring works by U.S. painter Mark Innerst and Korean photographer Atta Kim. Pamphlets describing the artwork, assembled by hotel curator Katherine Gass, are available for the taking.

The property joined the National Trust Historic Hotels of America this spring, but it's definitely not living in the past. Guest units offer an updated 21st century take on a sleek 1930s look and are crammed with high-tech gadgetry.

Rooftop cameras offer live views of the park and skyline on high-definition, interactive TVs in all rooms and suites, which also boast wireless Internet access and LCD touchscreen "electronic butler" systems to control lighting and temperature.

The hotel restaurant, to reopen in December, is under renovation with the help of designer Tony Chi, with an eye toward making the eatery a stand-alone destination draw for guests and nonguests alike. The redo also included the addition of a 2,500-square-foot spa and a state-of-the-art gym.

Van der Post said upgrades have pushed Essex House into the "four-and-half-star-plus" category, in the ranks of the Pierre and Plaza Athenee -- and taking aim at the Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental.

"The clientele has changed because we're positioning the hotel in a new segment," he said. "We've made tremendous increases in average rate because of that."

To reach Jumeirah's U.S. sales team, call (212) 237-2640 or e-mail [email protected]. To book the Jumeirah Essex House, call (888) 645-5697 or visit www.jumeirahessexhouse.com.

To contact the reporters who wrote this article, send e-mail to Felicity Long at [email protected] or Kenneth Kiesnoski at [email protected].

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