Written by Dave Gil de Rubio, firstname.lastname@example.org Friday, 15 February 2013 00:00
Before Morris Moinian’s Manhattan-based Fortuna Realty Group purchased the Garden City Hotel from the Nelkin Family in June 2012, rumors ran rampant. There was hearsay of Donald Trump entering the bidding fray while others wondered aloud about the fate of the long-serving staff. In the subsequent months, news about the hotel was scarce although announcements were made about more than 90 percent of employees getting rehired after reapplying for their jobs. Other news included the hiring away from Hilton Hotels of J. Grady Colin to be the hotel’s new general manager and that a new full-service spa would open in 2014.
On Jan. 30, the Garden City Chamber of Commerce hoped to dispel some of the mystery and intrigue that’s been hovering over this iconic landmark when its 2013 kickoff luncheon was hosted at the hotel itself. The turnout was healthy for this event whose theme was “The Garden City Hotel: What Lies Ahead? ” and guest speakers were Fortuna Realty Group Head of Acquisitions and Asset Management Ashish Lall and Colin.
First up was Lall, who served as an officer in the United States Marine Corps as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and was previously an investment banker at Credit Suisse and Cantor Fitzgerald. While he apologized for Moinian’s absence due to a scheduling conflict, Lall assured the audience of the Garden City Hotel’s role as a showcase asset in the Fortuna Realty portfolio. He also pointed out how his parent company was uniquely equipped to handle such a prestigious property.
“Fortuna is really a real estate company that has multiple facets to it. It’s got the ability to acquire existing assets, look at a piece of land and develop a great hotel and it also has the ability to manage and operate. So there’s a kind of integration there,” he explained. “While we do have investments in other asset classes, residential and office properties, our main focus is hospitality because that’s where we see the future going.”
Lall also said that having grown up on Long Island, Moinian had always dreamt of one day coming over and buying the Garden City Hotel. And while it is one of Fortuna’s more notable acquisitions, the relationship between the Village of Garden City and the hotel and the support of the former was a crucial facet in helping the latter not only maintain but improve on its already stellar level of service. As for future plans, Lall gave a general overview of his company’s approach to this point.
“In terms of the actual upgrades that we’d like to do, our goal is to not make any changes right away. We want to come in, see how the hotel operates on a daily basis and understand these operations,” he said. “I think we’ve done that in the last three or four months; simultaneously we’ve also taken time to evaluate and see how we can improve the aesthetics and the overall product. So we’ve actually hired designers, architects and a team of consultants that we typically use for all our new properties to evaluate these things. They are currently putting together designs for the rooms, banquets, carpets and we’re taking our time to evaluate that. While I can’t share anything specific yet, we are committed and have set aside some capital [to do all this].”
Befitting his job as the public face of the Garden City Hotel, Colin was more open about where the Garden City Hotel was heading. Having come from working at the Waldorf-Astoria during his prior travels, he compared the renown of the hotel he was currently managing to that of the Waldorf-Astoria.
“I worked at the Waldorf-Astoria where I’d constantly meet people who all had stories ranging from the fact that their grandmother got married there to having a father who was a mason who worked on erecting the building,” he said. “Not unlike the Waldorf, the Garden City Hotel is the kind of iconic building where people start telling you their personal experiences there once they find out that you work there.”
In addition to constantly praising the excellent service of the hotel’s staff, the general manager also addressed the rumors of mass firings (“We re-interviewed the workers and wound up retaining 94 percent of [our hand-picked] staff”) and how the hotel was being stealthily worked on (“Service will not be interrupted as improvements are made.”) Among the improvements being made was a $100,000 investment in carpets and chairs, the replacement of 60 trees in the hotel’s landscaping lost to Hurricane Sandy and the refinement of the banquet areas for the conferences that make up half of the hotel’s revenue.
Future plans include greater Wi-Fi connectivity, tours of the hotel and providing more information at the front desk that would be more village-focused and provide recommendations about local shopping and restaurants. He also spoke of digging out memorabilia from the hotel’s archives and private collectors and setting up a museum that would focus on the history of the current building and the three others before it. Most of all, Colin reassured how careful and thought-out the outcome of the Garden City Hotel was going to be going forward.
“What you want to do is not bring in the bulldozers and wrecking balls but rather keep doing our upgrades quietly. [This is] not a renovation so much as a redesign that includes enhancing the level of service in a way that will help restore the luster of the hotel,” he said. “There is a legacy that we have a responsibility to continue and not blunder ahead [with]. [It’s] time to add more polish to this legacy.”