Hudson Yards takes off as NYC tourism hot spot

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The Thomas Heatherwick-designed Vessel, a climbable public artwork, has emerged as a social media sensation.
The Thomas Heatherwick-designed Vessel, a climbable public artwork, has emerged as a social media sensation. Photo Credit: Christina Jelski

NEW YORK -- Since its March 15 premiere, pictures of Vessel, the massive, funnel-shaped hive that serves as the centerpiece of New York's new Hudson Yards development, have gone viral. That spells good news for the city's tourism industry.

The Thomas Heatherwick-designed, climbable public artwork has emerged as a social media sensation, quickly becoming the city's selfie backdrop du jour. Even so, the installation's "Vessel" moniker is just a placeholder; a permanent name will be selected via crowdsourcing in the coming months. 

Standing 150 feet tall, Vessel cuts a striking image. Consisting of 154 interconnecting flights of stairs, the structure offers views of the Hudson Yards complex, midtown Manhattan and the Hudson River. 

Advance tickets to enter it are available online for free, but Vessel has proven so popular that the two-week reservation window is often booked solid. Long lines form for a limited number of free, same-day tickets, released each morning at 9:30. 

Mercado Little Spain is a bustling Spanish food hall in Hudson Yards helmed by Jose Andres.
Mercado Little Spain is a bustling Spanish food hall in Hudson Yards helmed by Jose Andres. Photo Credit: Christina Jelski

"We're calling Vessel our version of the Eiffel Tower," said Christopher Heywood, executive vice president of global communications for NYC & Company, the city's destination marketing organization. "It's been blowing up on social media."

What's more, Vessel is just one of several elements at Hudson Yards seemingly tailor-made to lure tourists. The 28-acre, mixed-use project, which is estimated to have cost $25 billion, will be the largest private real estate development in the city since Rockefeller Center, according to co-developers Related Companies and Oxford Properties Group. 

Highlights include a shopping center notable for housing New York's first Neiman Marcus and a Jose Andres-led Spanish food court, among other outlets, plus the Shed, an arts center that officially debuted in early April.

The site also offers prime access to transportation and other popular New York destinations. 

The Shops and Restaurants at Hudson Yards opened earlier this spring.
The Shops and Restaurants at Hudson Yards opened earlier this spring. Photo Credit: Christina Jelski

"We've had immense visitor traffic from the outset," said Stacey Feder, chief marketing officer for Hudson Yards. Among the factors she credited for the surge are the development's direct link to the High Line, the elevated park that runs from 34th Street to Gansevoort Street, and its proximity to the 34th Street-Hudson Yards No. 7 train subway stop.

Placer.ai, a location intelligence platform that collects foot-traffic data from cellphones that have downloaded partner apps, estimates that Hudson Yards attracted well over 120,000 visitors each weekend in its first three weeks of being open. Notably, the site surpassed foot traffic to established hot spots like Rockefeller Center and Central Park on the Saturday of its debut weekend and continued to outpace or fall within striking distance of both destinations on subsequent weekends through the end of March.

Meanwhile, the Edge, billed as the highest outdoor observation deck in the Western Hemisphere, is expected to further cement Hudson Yards' status as a tourist magnet. Scheduled to open in 2020, the Edge will offer panoramic views from 1,100 feet above the street.

Soon, visitors will also be able to book a stay in the heart of Hudson Yards, with fitness brand Equinox opening its inaugural hotel at the complex this June. 

The 212-room luxury property will feature a 60,000-square-foot Equinox Fitness Club as well as an outpost of the brand's personalized training club, E by Equinox.

The Equinox Hotel is scheduled to open this summer.
The Equinox Hotel is scheduled to open this summer. Photo Credit: Christina Jelski

Equinox is not the only hotel poised to benefit from the neighborhood's building boom. Roughly seven blocks north, the Yotel New York has already seen a spike in buzz surrounding the debut of Hudson Yards. 

Elvis Gonzalez, director of mission and ground control at Yotel New York, said, "Hudson Yards has generated a ton of excitement about the entire area, particularly with guests from out of town. A lot has changed, with a surge of new restaurants, attractions and cultural offerings [enabling] Midtown West to shine as a sought-after neighborhood."

Nichole Mariette, director of sales and marketing for the nearby Distrikt Hotel, which is part of Hilton's Tapestry Collection, agreed that Hudson Yards has further enhanced the appeal of Midtown West. 

"Before Hudson Yards, that part of the neighborhood was a bit unsavory, and no one really went there," Mariette said. "But now, instead of heading back to Times Square, guests are going to Hudson Yards."

The Shed arts center opened in early April.
The Shed arts center opened in early April. Photo Credit: Christina Jelski

Recognizing opportunity, several other hospitality players have broken ground on nearby projects. The 399-room Marriott Courtyard New York Midtown West will open across the street from Hudson Yards later this year, complete with a food and beverage concept that Shannon Colbert, vice president sales & marketing for management company Endeavor Hospitality Group, said will "present an affordable, comfortable, lively and social option in the Hudson Yards District."

Likewise, boutique brand Arlo is looking to build on the success of its SoHo and NoMad locations with a third New York property a stone's throw from Hudson Yards. 

Set to open in 2020, the Arlo Midtown Hotel plans to attract guests with its lifestyle-driven positioning. 

Foiz Ahmed, president of hospitality for Arlo owner Quadrum Global, said, "In Midtown West, it's mainly big-box, branded hotels, and there's a lack of hip factor. We're going to create something focused on the local experience. And I do believe that people who are in the know will want to stay at Hudson Yards."

Not everyone is as confident about Hudson Yards' staying power, however. For example, Barry Tenenbaum, president of tour operator New York City Vacation Packages said he wonders if once Vessel is no longer the city's shiniest new toy, Hudson Yards will remain a major draw.

A view from inside Vessel, which is made up of 154 interconnecting flights of stairs.
A view from inside Vessel, which is made up of 154 interconnecting flights of stairs. Photo Credit: Christina Jelski

"It's a magnificent development, but from a tourism perspective, you have to think about the competition," Tenenbaum said. "Tourists have so little time and lots to do. It's competing with the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, etc. Are people going to have time?"

Still, Tenenbaum appears to be hedging his bets. New York City Vacation Packages will pass through Hudson Yards on its four-hour City Highlights bus tour, and it will add stopover options as part of its six- and eight-hour itineraries. The company also hopes to add the Edge to its Observatory package, alongside One World Observatory, the Empire State Building observation deck and Top of the Rock.

"Time will tell," Tenenbaum said. "Who knows? Perhaps Hudson Yards and Vessel could end up being one of our greatest destinations."

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