Boom time for hospitality
The hotel development pipeline provides a good metric of the lower Manhattan revival. In 2001, the area had five hotels and 1,493 hotel rooms. By the end of this year, the neighborhood will have 32 hotels and 6,719 rooms.
When the Ritz-Carlton Battery Park opened in 2002, delayed several months because of the 9/11 attacks, there were no other luxury properties in the area, an isolation that lingered until upscale brands Andaz and W opened in 2010 and Hilton's Conrad opened in 2012. Opening this month are both the Four Seasons Downtown and the Beekman.
Greg Mendoza, the Ritz-Carlton Battery Park general manager, said he welcomed the competition.
Being the only luxe product on the block for so long, he said, "For years ... we needed to charge $600 to be competitive with the rates around us. The Beekman and the Four Seasons will help the market and help us."
But as the hotel growth indicates, the story of lower Manhattan's renaissance has not happened gradually since 2001. There was a steady pace, but the real acceleration happened during the last five years, as One World Trade Center began to take shape and the Sept. 11 Memorial became a reality.
As a result, tourism numbers are up 48% since 2013. Except for a slight dip after Sandy, "the underlying tourism trend has been steeply positive," Breslau said. "It was steadily growing, but once people could taste, touch and smell the World Trade Center campus healing and being a real place again, then it accelerated."
Michael Frazier, communications director for the Sept. 11 Memorial, recalled that when the complex opened in 2011, with the World Trade Center rising around it, it became the catalyst for a new way of thinking about the area.
"When the memorial and museum opened, it took away those images you are familiar with — that we should remember — but it showed us how we can look at our past and move forward," Frazier said. "The memorial was beautiful. It drew people to the site to see it in a different view and understand that it was at the center of re-stitching this neighborhood back together."
Mendoza said that much of the hotel development was timed to when people thought One World Trade Center would open. But that took longer than developers had anticipated, meaning some properties opened before the area was ready for them.
One World Trade Center, which opened in November 2014, with the September 11 Memorial in front of it. Photo Credit: Johanna Jainchill
"The supply came sooner than the demand," Mendoza said. "Now, with all the restaurants and shopping malls and the World Trade Center facilities opening up, the demand is increasing, and it will match the supply."
Rechtermann said that even five years ago, when he moved to the Conrad from his post at a midtown hotel, "the joke was that we didn't even know where to go for lunch."
"There were so few options down here," he said. "There was very little street traffic. ... There has just been tremendous change in the last five years I've been down here."
Now, he said, with the Brookfield Place and Westfield shopping centers open, the foot traffic in the area is "just tremendous."
"Now, it's a thriving neighborhood with residents and business and restaurants and shopping," he said.
The Conrad's occupancy rate is just under 90%, and demand is increasing with more weekend business than ever.
As a result, he said, there has been "a general increase in interest from hotel companies and travelers. There are only so many hotels you can put in midtown. Down here, there is a sense of space. I think people like that. You're not in Times Square, and you can have some space in a great hotel and still walk around and have great restaurants and shopping and views of the river and all those things."
For Mendoza and everyone else at the Ritz-Carlton, the resurgence has been a long time coming.
"It's booming, and it's good for us," he said. "To be the only place in the area was difficult for our guests. They didn't have places to go. They wanted to go to restaurants, and they were far away. Now we have a lot of restaurants in the area in walking distance. ... We are so happy. We've been waiting for this for a long time."