Aladdin Hotel: Former Longacre Hotel is Continuing Concern
Hell’s Kitchen Online
October 4, 1997
by Clarissa Cruz
Tenants of the Aladdin Hotel at 317 W. 45th Street are the latest victims in the power struggle between commercial and residential interests in the ongoing revitilization of Times Square. Formerly known as the Longacre Hotel, the newly renovated establishment now is seeking to attract foreign travelers by billing itself as a youth hostel located in the heart of the theater district.
It’s not okay with longtime residents of the building’s single room occupancy units, however. Now the predominantly elderly and immigrant tenants must share hallway, kitchen and bathroom space with young, international travelers vacationing in New York. Furthermore, advocates for building residents claim that current management is trying to force long-term residents out of the hotel via evictions, buyouts, and poor maintenance.
“The tenants have been through hell,” said Sarah Desmond, tenant organizer for the Housing Conservation Coordinators (HCC) in Manhattan. “The building is in horrible shape.”
The Aladdin Hotel has 312 outstanding inspection violations, according to the HPD. Common offenses include defective smoke detectors, vermin and roach infestation, insufficient/nonexistent lighting, and broken shower stalls.
The Longacre Hotel became the Aladdin Hotel about six months ago, and is currently in receivership says Desmond. Alan Lapes, who could not be reached for comment, now holds the mortgage for the property. Desond says that in order to clear out long-term residents of the hotel, management is offering buyouts to tenants.
“SROs are one of the last steps before homelessness, and many people here can’t afford to live anywhere else,” says Desmond. “But if you flash $2,000 to $5,000 in front of someone’s face, they take it. They don’t realize that the money will be gone in a year, and that SROs are disappearing and turning into tourist hotels.”
In June, Thomas Hanke, formerly of the Gershwin Hotel, took over management at the Aladdin. Since then, the air-conditioned lobby has been completely renovated to become more attractive to young travelers. Piped in Rod Stewart music, brightly colored carpeting, and a brand-new, distressed metal check-in desk exist in stark contrast to the poor conditions of many tenant rooms.
Short-term visitors are attractive to management because they pay higher daily rates, as opposed to the rent-controlled apartments of permanent residents, said Laurie Marin, staff attorney at the West Side SRO Law Project in Manhattan. The Aladdin is now courting young travelers by advertising a “flying carpet rooftop bar” and offering shared rooms for about $22 a night and private rooms from $65-75. By contrast, seven-year resident Wren Norwood pays $117.65 a month.
“We are trying to change the clientele to younger students,” says Tanja Koch, director of sales and marketing at the Aladdin. “We’ve added dormitories and renovated the lobby and bathrooms. Since then, the occupancy rate has gone up. We’re pretty much booked from the first of September on.”
When asked about the accomodations for permanent tenants, Koch said, “There are a few old ladies and other tenants left, but we’re trying to reduce that by offering alternative living solutions. It’s also a big improvement for the neighborhood.”
“It’s no improvement; it’s just as bad in a different way” said John Fisher, co-chair of the West 45th Street Block Association who has lived next door to the Longacre for fifteen years. “The drugs and pimps were almost gone before Lapes took over. He came in and created dangerous building conditions, security and health hazards for adjacent buildings, and harassment of remaining tenants, especially those from Senegal.”
But the thirty or so remaining long-term residents complain that the influx of vacationers is harming their quality of life. “Tenants feel invaded by backpackers in their twenties,” says Marin. “The kids are on vacation and they’re partying. Meanwhile the bathrooms are disastrous and the kitchens are little more than garbage storage areas.”
Tenants said that over the past two years they have had to deal with noise, long lines at bathrooms, and constant construction as new beds are added to what used to be single rooms. Norwood said that building owners did not consider the needs of permanent residents when converting the building into a hostel.
“They ripped out our bathrooms and replaced them with junk,” she said. “Everything looks new, but you can’t flush the toilets and there’s always flooding – we call it Swamp Longacre here.”
Norwood also complained about the lack of security. “The bathrooms are coed and people walk in on you all the time because the doors don’t lock,” she says. “There are four or five people to a room, and the noise is just crazy.”
A recent walk around the hotel confirmed this. In already-cramped hallways, broken furniture, new bunkbed frames and empty boxes were stacked on stained carpeted floors littered with bits of plastic and cigarette butts. Open doors revealed rooms containing groups of three or four travelers, mostly young international vacationers in town for a few days. The “rooftop bar” consisted of little more than a tar-covered rooftop patio with fake grass flooring, three card tables and three potted palm trees. The emergency fire door was propped open with a wooden chair.
“Obviously, someone coming in to spend the night cares less about having to be clean, quiet and safe,” said Desmond.
“There are a lot of complaints about theft, drugs and noise at the hotel,” says Officer Paul Sulback of the Midtown North Precinct. “Much of the clientele are travelers who donUt have a lot of money to stay at a nicer place.”
Twenty-four-year-old Scott Harris from Queensland, Australia, was sharing a room with three other twentysomething tourists he met at the airport. He spent the last three days “doing New York” and was leaving for Los Angeles the following morning.
“I think it’s smart of them to turn this into a youth hostel,” said Harris. “They’d make a lot of money, and besides, there were these really cranky, old women downstairs. Typical New York.”
—Clarissa Cruz is a graduate student at the Columbia University School of Journalism.