Not for Tourists Hotels Reach the Heights

Washington Heights is on the brink of seeing its first hotels ever. Yet another sign of gentrification looming overhead? Not necessarily, finds Northattan‘s Claire Pires. These hotels are more on the budget side, intended for family members in town to visit relatives or people doing business uptown. Compared to other concerns of gentrification hitting the Upper Manhattan neighborhood, this one seems less threatening.

As resident John Pappas says, hotels won’t sweep away local businesses, rather they’ll provide jobs

“Residents should be worried about superstores like Gristedes being built here and taking away business from mom and pop stores, but hotels are a different animal,” Pappas said. “They will boost business and employ people.”

Audobon Hotel, expected to open by the end of this year. (Photo by Claire Pires via Northattan)

Audobon Hotel, expected to open by the end of this year. (Photo by Claire Pires via Northattan)

The first of two hotels is the boutique Audobon Hotel, scheduled to open by the end of this year. The planned 52-room eight-story building at 507 W. 181st Street is intended for parents of the area’s college students as well as businesspeople.

“The first clientele is families who are there to visit their loved ones at Columbia Presbyterian, the second is parents of Yeshiva University students, and the third are business-people in the area and Dominican business people for sure,” Skeadas said. “I know business people who stay in New Jersey simply for economic reasons, so they love the idea of staying in Washington Heights.” Skeadas said the hotel plans to charge $99 to $159 per room, which he said is “not expensive, especially for brand new construction.”

The second hotel just a few blocks away at 514 W. 168th Street only began work in July with December 2014 set as the end date. Like the Audobon, this hotel will also include medical offices, which will make up the first five floors with the other six floors for rooms. The rate looks to be more expensive at around $225.

Why the long wait for a hotel in Washington Heights?

“Washington Heights should have had a hotel for a long time, but getting financing from a bank is very difficult,” said Hope Knight, chief operating officer for the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, which uses public funds and tax incentives to invest in projects in poorer communities.

Knight said the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone provided a $2.2 million loan to the hotel because it would benefit the neighborhood.

“We thought it would create jobs that local residents in the community should be able to access,” she said. “We believe that a hotel is more than necessary for the Washington Heights community given that there’s no place for people to stay north of 125th Street.”

The hotels can also provide a place to stay for families of patients at Columbia University Medical Center, which are now sent across the river to Fort Lee, N.J. or the space-limited hotel-like McKeen Pavilion next door.

Residents don’t have much faith, however, in the hotels bringing tourists to the area.

The hotel is not aimed at tourists, who local resident Margie Laffosse doesn’t think would feel comfortable, even at that price.

“I don’t see a cowboy sitting up there, you know?” said Laffosse. “There’s no Ann Taylor up there. I mean, it’s very urban.”

While guests may not be tourists, they’ll be hard-pressed to find ways to pass free time, says one local.

“People just hang out outside of their apartments and then go inside,” said Ivelis Esteves, who lives on 183rd and Fort Washington. “There’s not a lot going on around here.”

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