Own a Piece of History: The Jumeirah Esssex House

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The Jumeirah Esssex House gives itself a $70 million renovation project for its 75th birthday

By Stephanie Wilson / Photography courtesy of Essex House

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 The Essex House, built in 1931, is celebrating their 75th anniversary this year with a $70 million refurbishment project.

Coveted addresses are a dime a dozen in New York City, yet only a handful let you know you have truly arrived. Of this handful, one address on Central Park South rises to the top, thanks to its superior offerings and service and its promises of what is to come: The Jumeirah Essex House. This hotel/residence allows a glimpse into the rich fabrics of the city’s history, and offers a window from which one can see into the future of luxury living and travel. The Essex House truly is a New York City icon with a very storied history, one which lays the property open for a fairytale ending-or better yet, for a new beginning.

The hotel boasts one of the most heralded views in New York City, with panoramic vistas of Central Park sitting in its foreground, and beautiful cityscapes viewable from the backside. In September of 2005, United Arab Emirates-based Dubai Investment Group purchased the hotel for a cool $440 million, making this acquisition the largest-single asset hotel sale in the US for that year. The company then designated international luxury hospitality group Jumeirah Hospitality & Leisure to operate and manage the hotel upon its new ownership on January 15, 2006.

The Dubai-based Jumeirah owns and operates ten properties worldwide including seven magnificent hotels and resorts in Dubai, two hotels in London, and now the Essex House, the company’s first property in North America. While the Jumeirah Essex House earned the prestigious AAA Four-Diamond Award in 2006, if there was such a thing as six or seven diamond rating, several of Jumeirah’s various properties worldwide would rightfully claim them all. When they announced their goal of becoming a global player in the luxury market, the first step was to come into New York City; the next step was determining which hotel would fly the opulent Jumeirah flag. Frank van der Post, Senior Vice President, Americas of Jumeirah says, “We don’t want to be just another hotel company: all of our hotels are different. The icon of New York is Central Park, and The Essex House will always be ‘That hotel on the Park.’ This is why we chose to make The Essex House our first US location.”

STAY UNIQUE

Mr. van der Post says, “As much as the Essex House is the pearl from the location perspective, the actual product needed upgrading. To embark on something like that, you can try to do it for $15-20 million, but if you want to make a spectacular entry and be the flagship hotel for the Jumeirah brand in North America, you have to do it right.”

The Essex House, built in 1931, is celebrating their 75th anniversary this year with a $70 million refurbishment project. Scott Dawson, General Manager for Jumeirah Essex House, says, “Other buildings have spent more than that, but this building was closed for two years thirteen years ago when a lot of the major systems were replaced. To spend $70-80 million when we are not replacing major systems is unprecedented.”

LIVE IN HISTORY

$20 million of this product enhancement process was claimed by taking 90-or-so hotel rooms and turning them into 32 luxury condominium residences, bringing the total number of units for sale up to 35. The units, designed by famed architect Costas Kondylis, are being marketed by the new marketing division of Colgate Development, headed up by Elida Jacobsen Justo as Director of Sales. Alexia Kondylis and her team, interior designers for elite members of New York high-society, have done the flawless interiors. Priced from $1,000,000, the new residences range from one to three bedrooms and approximately 700-to 2100-square-feet.

“With coffered ceilings nine-and-a-half-feet and higher, and corridors among the widest in New York City, this pre-war gem has a spacious, open feeling. The new French doors and floor-to-ceiling windows further enhance the light and show-stopping views of Central Park,” says Ms. Jacobsen Justo.

Ms. Jacobsen Justo likes to point out an anecdote from a buyer: “When you live in a hotel, many of the guests are on vacation, making this a happier place to be.” Those lucky enough to call this prestigious address home will receive complete concierge services, a doorman, bellman, valet parking, room service, fresh flowers, maid service, dry cleaning and laundry, linen and turndown service, restaurant service, catering, business center, private conference room, a brand-new health club and gym, masseuse and masseurs, and limousine services. And being that Lincoln Center, The Met and Carnegie Hall are just blocks away, those at The Jumeirah Essex House literally have the city at their fingertips.

Ms. Jacobsen says, “Our Central Park view residences sell on average for $2500 per square foot, making this the value purchase on Central Park South.”

ART DECO ELEGANCE

Next year, when the entire renovation project is complete, the hotel will surely live up to its Jumeirah name. Noted international interior design specialists Hirsh Bedner and Associates-whose designs include the InterContinental Tokyo Bay, the St. Regis Shanghai, The Ritz-Carlton Millennia Singapore, The Mandarin Oriental Miami, Mandarin Oriental New York at Columbus Circle, among many others-are redesigning the lobby, guestrooms and corridors. Their design approach was to respect the hotels historically significant Art Deco details and flourishes while upgrading guestrooms, suites, meeting rooms, lobby and corridors to five-star status.

The renovation project is a major refurbishment of all cosmetic aspects of the hotel, alongside great technological upgrades. As Mr. Dawson says, “What we have done with the whole technological side of things has never been done before.” One highlight? A VOIP (voice over internet phone) combined with a touch screen system. “This means that you will have all of your Internet functionalities through your telephone, including having the room service menu come up or a million different gadgets on the phone, and have the opportunity to control the temperature, to independently control the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign, to let the hotel know you require service,” Mr. Dawson explains. “This is a device that does everything that you would want it to.”

Each room also features high-def Philips LCD screens complete with “The Room With a View” aspect. To take advantage of one of the hotel’s distinguishing characteristics– the breathtaking view of the park– two panoramic cameras were installed on the roof. The real-time picture is then transmitted to the guest rooms, welcoming guests upon check-in.

DESTINATION DINING

A couple of hundred thousand people will pass through the hotel each year to use the rooms, but one true measure of a hotel lies in the restaurant, which portrays the hotel to the world. In the case of the Jumeirah Essex House the restaurants will be giving other restaurants in the city cause for concern.

Tony Chi and Associates are designing the 7000 square foot space. Mr. Dawson gushes, “It has an absolutely stunning design. [Tony Chi] is an absolute legend with an unbelievable track record.” As Mr. van der Post said, “He will be making sure that his neighborhood restaurant will be his neighborhood restaurant.” The space will house a Viennese-style coffee house, with a lunch and dinner restaurant being created towards the front of the hotel. A new entrance was put leading directly out onto Central Park South. “While the design is contemporary and edgy, we are not trying to alienate anybody. We have a sophisticated traveler who stays in the hotel, and it is a restaurant that absolutely tries to satisfy them,” says Mr. Dawson.

FIVE-DIAMOND SERVICE

Mr. Dawson relates a story as told to him by Mr. Chi. “A few months ago, Tony Chi said, ‘Something dramatic happened at The Essex House on the fifteenth of January.’ Well, yes, sure, we changed the signs, we changed the flags. And he said, ‘I always used to come out of my apartment and cut through the Essex House lobby to go for coffee. I walked through there for years, and no one ever talked to me, no one ever said anything. Since the day [Jumeirah] arrived, when I walk through the lobby, eight people say good morning and greet me with a smile. Its unbelievable how quickly that happened and how consistently that has happened since then.'” Jumeirah prides itself on this warm, welcoming service culture where no desire will go un-quelled.

“We are re-positioning the Essex House,” Mr. Dawson says. “It was a great hotel when it reopened 13 years ago. It has a great place in this city, and while it was very well respected among the best hotels in the city, it has lost that positioning. What we intend to do is celebrate the fact that we are 75 years old by renovating the hotel. When the project is complete, we will still be in our 75th year. We will celebrate the rebirth of the Essex House with a dramatic statement to the outside world.”

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