Southgate Tower 'holds its own' in tough year

NEW YORK -- A stone's throw from the chaos of Penn Station in midtown Manhattan, the unassuming Southgate Tower stands quiet and reserved on the southeast corner of 31st Street and Seventh Avenue.

One of 10 all-suite properties in the Manhattan East Suites group, Southgate is the only one west of Madison Avenue and the nearest to the downtown financial center.

Maybe that's why hundreds of government officials on post-Sept. 11 assignments chose to stay at the property, or perhaps it was because its big suites could accommodate working groups in casual settings.

Either way, the Southgate became a home away from home for U.S. attorneys, FBI and Federal Emergency Management Agency workers, state troopers and others who remained in the city for some months after the terrorist attacks.

According to Mark Hurewitz, general manager, Southgate was sold out in the fourth quarter of last year thanks to the government officials, although he certainly would have preferred hosting them under different circumstances.

The Southgate must have done something right during that difficult time: A large plaque carrying the seal of the Department of Justice and signed by Attorney General John Ashcroft hangs in Hurewitz's office, thanking the hotel staff for its part in helping to make those months tenable for the government officials who roomed there.

A year later, occupancy hovers around 70%, down from what Hurewitz said would be a traditional level of 85%. In general, though, he said, "We're holding our own."

The three-star Southgate has 527 suites, making it the largest all-suite hotel in the city.

A one-bedroom suite with a balcony overlooking Seventh Avenue had a large living room with a sitting area and a work area. It also featured a fully equipped kitchen and two bathrooms.

The rooms were clean, bright and decorated in neutral colors and with mahogany furnishings. The work area provided an oversized desk, a data port for computer and fax hook-up, and dual-line phones with voice mail.

The hotel restaurant, Niles, offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, and both business and leisure guests could be seen dining there on a recent visit. Breakfast is offered continental or full menu. At night, Niles turns into a cozy Irish bar.

Hurewitz said Southgate's repeat business is high -- upwards of 75% -- but he has noticed that most people booking the hotel through the Internet tend to be one-time visitors who happened upon a special rate.

The property has seven meetings rooms and a ballroom that can accommodate 400 for receptions, 250 for banquets.

Like other hoteliers in Manhattan, Hurewitz is taking it on faith that visitor levels will return to more robust levels.

Until then, the property offers a warm reception to all comers and counts on its regular guests to keep booking.

The regulars include the flight crews from Japan Air Lines and road crews who work the big shows at Madison Square Garden.

"They're nice people," Hurewitz said, adding, "We're glad to have them here."

Room key: Southgate Tower Suite Hotel

Address: 371 Seventh Ave., New York, N.Y. 10001
Phone: (212) 563-1800
Fax: (212) 643-8028
Reservations: (800) ME-SUITE
Built: 1929
Location: Midtown Manhattan
Number of Rooms: 527
Head Concierge: Joanne Norris
Sample rates: Studio, $189; one-bedroom suite, $209.
Noteworthy: The evening crowd at the hotel bar, Niles, can be counted on to entertain.
Not worthy: A problem with a magnetic door key locked out a guest twice in one day.

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