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A Hotel Rises in Harlem

The storied district's first new hotel in 40 years is set to open its doors just a short walk from historic landmarks.

If New York City is a harbinger for the future of the hospitality industry, then the prognosis is brightening. Developers are lining up to erect new properties in the market as the tourism business rapidly recovers.

Perhaps most surprising of all is the unveiling of the first new hotel in Harlem in 40 years. It is slated to open in late October as the Aloft, a stylish limited-service brand owned by Starwood Hotels & Resorts that is proliferating rapidly around the country.

RCG Longview of New York is the developer of the hotel, located at 2300 Frederick Douglass Blvd., a short walk to the landmark Apollo Theater, Columbia University and the emerging 125th Street retail and office corridor. Former President Bill Clinton has his offices nearby.

The historically African-American neighborhoods of Harlem have not had a single nationally branded hotel until now. There may be another one on the horizon. A group spearheaded by former Dallas Cowboys football star Emmitt Smith recently received approval for a 200-room Hyatt hotel at 100 W. 125th St. and Lenox Avenue.

The project proposed by Smith and company will cost at least $80 million and include a Whole Foods supermarket. The project won $19.7 million in Recovery Zone Facility Bonds from the city and could be open by 2013.

Richard Gorsky, leader of the RCG Longview development team, won't say what his company is spending to develop Aloft, which includes 44 condominium residences on upper floors priced as high as $1 million each.

Observers estimate that the investment probably exceeds $50 million, raised from RCG's typical mix of pension funds, endowments and high-net-worth individuals. RCG, backed by both Ramius LLC and the Feil Organization, has invested some $3.5 billion in real estate since its launch in 1999.

Since the brand's debut two years ago, more than 40 Alofts have opened, with one of the newest slated for Brussels, Belgium. “Aloft's tagline is ‘style for less,’ which fits our economic times perfectly,” says Gorsky of RCG.

White Plains, N.Y.-based Starwood expects to grow its New York presence by 50% in 2010, from a dozen hotels at the start of the year to 18 by December. Besides the Harlem Aloft, the company is opening another Aloft in Brooklyn.

“While nearly 80% of our future hotel pipeline is outside the United States, we have more hotels in New York City than any city in the world,” says Frits van Paasschen, Starwood's CEO. “We will open more hotels right here in our backyard than anywhere else, which speaks to New York's enduring stature as the most global gateway city in the world.”

Starwood has been encouraged by a swift recovery in the city's hotel performance. Early in the summer citywide occupancies reached 86.4%, up five percentage points over the same period in 2009. There were 45.3 million visitors to New York in 2009, some 7% above expectations. Tourism officials expect the annual number of visitors to surpass 50 million by 2012.

Still, Harlem has not been a hotbed of hotel construction in years. Gorsky predicts that “we will reach occupancies of 90% and more in our Aloft. The area is starved for rooms.”

In Progress: Whitney Center at Rowan University

DEVELOPER: Public/private partnership between the borough of Glassboro, N.J., Sora Holdings LLC, and Rowan University

LOCATION: Glassboro, N.J.

BUZZ: Part of a massive $300 million revitalization project, the Whitney Center will include 22,000 sq. ft. of retail on the first floor while the upper floors include apartments for honors students.

SIZE: The revitalization project will encompass 26 acres


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