|By David Saltonstall, Daily News, New York|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 23, 2005 - Don't pack your bags just yet, Eloise.
The City Council is expected to introduce a bill today that would bar any hotel -- including The Plaza, home to the fictional Eloise -- from converting more than 20 percent of its space to condos.
That could scuttle controversial plans by Plaza owners Elad Properties to cut the number of rooms at the fabled hotel by 80 percent, from 805 to 150, and convert the remainder of the landmark to condos and shops.
"The Plaza is synonymous with the City of New York, and it's something we have to fight to preserve," said City Councilwoman Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), a sponsor of the bill. "But it has also spotlighted a much larger problem facing our city's hotel industry."
The bill comes as more than a dozen hotels in the city have converted some or all of their rooms into high-price condos -- eliminating more than 1,000 union-backed hotel jobs.
At the same time, while a number of new hotels are in the pipeline, the tourism is booming.
That has some worried that the city's critical tourism industry could soon be hamstrung by a lack of hotel rooms.
The Council's bill would grant hotel owners a one-time right to convert 20 percent of their space to condos or other residential uses. After that, developers would have to prove to the city they are "unable to earn a reasonable financial return" as a hotel.
The proposal was blasted yesterday by Elad Properties as a gift to the city's hotel union and an attempt to meddle with private-sector forces in "probably unconstitutional" ways.
"It will not only hurt The Plaza hotel's renovation plans," said Elad President Miki Naftali, "but will also harm New York's booming real estate industry."
Aides to Mayor Bloomberg, who has been trying to broker a deal between Elad and the city's hotel union, declined to comment on the bill.
But hotel union President Peter Ward said he would work to ensure passage in the Council, where 34 members -- a veto-proof majority -- are expected to sign on, sources said.
"We don't need to dismantle one of the few solid industries we have in this city," he said, "to build condos for rich people."
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