This is the last week for the Plaza as we
have known it. The venerable New York landmark closes on April 30
for renovations and for conversion to what the real estate people
call mixed use, meaning part hotel, part retail, part condos.
But grand, old,
big-city hotels like the Plaza are no strangers to the concept of
mixed use. They were always much more than hotels. They are tourist
attractions in their own right; movie sets; venues for weddings,
anniversaries and other memorable events -- even dreams. Their
lobbies and other public spaces are welcoming refuges from the
chaos of city life.
The Plaza has been
all that and more, and it now appears likely that it will be all
that and more when it reopens next year.
The new agreement
between the hotels owner, Elad Properties, and hotel employees
confirms that key public spaces will be preserved and will continue
to be available to the public. The agreement also reduces the
number of residences and increases the projected hotel room count
importantly, the agreement heads off an effort by the New York City
Council to start legislating guidelines to hotel owners about
converting their properties to mixed use.
We like the way
this turned out. Its a reasonable compromise. The best of the Plaza
will be preserved, and everybody involved -- including New Yorks
other hotels, the citys visitors and its elected officials -- can
go on about their business.
Theres an old show-biz saying that theres
no such thing as bad publicity. That may be true for starlets and
action heroes, but its a risky proposition for travel companies,
whose livelihood depends on the safety and well-being of paying
customers -- serious stuff.
The founder of
Irelands Ryanair, Michael OLeary, recently gave us an example of
publicity that could turn bad by dressing up for the airlines
Dublin-Rome inaugural flight as Cardinal OLeary of Mullingar,
dispensing liturgical puns such as, You dont need to be infallible
to know that only Ryanair guarantees the lowest fares to
corporate executives, OLeary is willing to err on the side of bad
taste to get his companys name in the paper. Among airline
executives on this side of the pond, only Southwests Herb Kelleher,
with his Elvis impersonations, comes close to matching OLearys
wisdom has it that the airlines cant afford to put the fun back
into flying with bold marketing and customer-service initiatives
because they are preoccupied with survival and
Theres some truth
to that, but without going over the top, they might be able to come
up with a few cheap tricks to stoke up some good will and good
For all his faults,
OLeary is at least reminding us that the airline business may be
getting too serious.