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The New York Palace Hotel (formerly The Helmsley Palace)

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posted by Richard Johnson alias Dick Johnson NYC on Thursday 15th of September 2011 06:17:11 PM

The New York Palace Hotel (formerly The Helmsley Palace) 455 Madison Avenue at 50th Street New York, NY 10022 The 55-story tower seen from Park Avenue and 51st Street. --------------------------- The Villard Houses were brownstone residences built by Henry Villard in 1884. Villard was a railway promoter and financier, who took over the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1881. The architect was McKim, Mead & White. The firm also designed the Pennsylvania Hotel in Manhattan. The six residence building was clad in quarried brownstone and wrapped around a u-shaped courtyard representative of a 15th century Italian palazzo. Four homes opened onto the courtyard while two had entrances on 51st Street. Villard moved into the corner residence at 451 Madison, at the corner of 50th Street for just a short while before declaring bankruptcy. Much of the interior decoration is still visible today in the restaurant Gilt (formerly Le Cirque 2000). In the 1940’s the Villard House was known as Women's Military Services Club. It served women in the military that could stay there for .50 cents a night. By the late 60’s the Archdiocese of New York owned the complex. In the early 70’s Harry Helmsley found the perfect location in which to build his dream hotel. The Villard House was located on New York's Madison Avenue, across the street from St. Patrick's Cathedral. Helmsley negotiated a 99 year lease on the site from the the Archdiocese of New York and proposed gutting the interiors of the Villard and putting a 51-story hotel on top of it. The preservationists prevailed and Helmsley’s plan was changed to save most of the interiors of the Villard houses, though the buildings' rear facades were demolished and incorporated in to the new 51-story hotel. long-term ground lease, which runs for decades. The Archdiocese of New York receives $10 million annually in ground rent. Helmsley commissioned architects Emery Roth & Sons and Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer to design the modern structure and integrate the 1884 houses. The tower’s façade is a dark bronze reflective glass that was to blend with the Villard Houses. Started in 1977, the 905-room hotel project was completed in 1980. Leona Helmsley spent a great deal of time and energy managing the decorating and staffing of the hotel. Leona took seriously her role as President of Helmsley Hotels and was determined to give her guests unprecedented service. On September 15, 1980, the opulent Helmsley Palace Hotel opened. At the time The Helmsley Palace had the highest hotel rates in the city. An early print advertisement featuring Leona had the by-line: “It’s the only palace in the world where the Queen stands guard” The hotel has four Triplex Suites. Situated at the top of the tower and occupying the four corners, each 2-bedroom suite is spread over three floors and include a private roof terrace. In 1982, the limited partners in the Helmsley Palace Hotel partnership forced an arbitration proceeding after Harry Helmsley, in his role as general partner demanded more money from the limited partners for cost overruns in building the hotel. The limited partners said the Helmsley’s had mismanaged the business and had hurt the partnership through several self-dealing transactions. The arbitrators ruled in favor of the limited partners and forced the Helmsley’s to pay the cost overruns and an additional $3.5 million to the partnership. Leona Helmsley, was convicted of income tax fraud in August 1989 - (“We don’t pay taxes … only the little people do”). Leona was convicted of 33 felony counts of trying to defraud the government and IRS, including mail fraud, tax evasion and filing false tax returns (essentially running millions of dollars of personal expenses through the Helmsley Palace and Park Lane books) Harry Helmsley was indicted on similar charges in 1988, but was found too ill to stand trial. He died in 1997. Following appeals Leona Helmsley was imprisoned from 1992-1993. The limited partners in the Palace partnership were rightfully concerned during the Helmsley’s legal mess that the hotel was in desperate need for another general partner. The limited partners contended Helmsley Enterprises breached its fiduciary duties in managing and operating the partnership. They sought through the courts to remove the Helmsleys as general partner, and to appoint a receiver until a new general partner and manager can be found or the hotel be sold. They also sought restoration of any money the Helmsleys may have diverted to their affiliates through self-dealing. Helmsley operated the Helmsley Palace hotel until 1992. She was known to fire managers from her jail cell. Interstate Hotels was appointed by the court as the hotel’s receiver. The hotel changed its name to The New York Palace Hotel. The receiver received 6 qualified bids for the hotel. In November 1993 The Royal Family of Brunei agreed to buy the New York Palace for $202 million (the highest offer). The agreement to buy the Palace is with Amedeo Hotels Limited Partnership, an investment company in Brunei. The Sultan of Brunei, through its development company, Amedeo Limited, contracted with Harman Jablin Architects for the complete renovation of the hotel and Villard Houses. The hotel is comprised of three structures: the899-room 55-story hotel tower, the 5-story Villard House, and the 2-story Maloney & Porcelli restaurant. The wealth of the royal family of Brunei, a tiny oil-rich sultanate on the island of Borneo, is controlled by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, whose estimated worth of $33 billion makes him one of the world's richest men. He and his family also own the 263-room Beverly Hills Hotel in California, bought for $187 million in 1987, and the Dorchester Hotel in London, bought for about $85 million in 1985. The Royal Family’s new wealth comes from a constant flow of royalties into their private bank accounts from Shell Oil, who they joint ventured with to extract Brunei’s only natural resource. The Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah younger brother is Prince Jefri Bolkiah who was the finance minister of Brunei from 1986 to 1998 and thus the chairman of The Brunei Investment Agency (BIA) responsible for overseas investments. He was known for his extravagant lifestyle, which included a private Boeing 747 and 2,000 automobiles. Hotels he controlled included The New York Palace Hotel, Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles and Plaza Athénée in Paris. Following an audit in 1987 The Brunei government charged Prince Jefri with embezzling $14.8 billion and he was removed as chairman of BEI. In July 2008 BEI signed management contracts with the Dorchester Group to operate the New York Plaza and the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. Prince Jefri’s two main legal and financial advisors, the British husband and wife lawyers Thomas Derbyshire and Faith Zaman were dispatched by the Prince to the New York Palace in 2004 to protect his interests. The two were involved in many aspects of Prince Jefri’s business affairs and they held powers of attorney to act of his behalf. So In November 2005, Zaman claims Jefri gave them a 17-year lease on a 2,800-square-foot apartment on the third floor of the hotel, which rented as a suite for $20,000 a night. The prince gave the apartment to them rent-free for the first five years After that, the charge would be $500 a month, with an option to renew for 51 years. According the Vanity Fair this was done so the sultan if ever was successful in taking over the hotel, he would have to deal with them for the rest of his life. In February 2006, John Segreti, the managing director of the Palace, dropped dead at 52 of a pulmonary embolism. Segreti formerly was the chief operating officer at Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, in Hong Kon). In March 2006 Faith Zaman was appointed Managing Director of the Palace. Her annual salary included 5 percent of the hotel’s gross operating profit, a car allowance of $100,000 per year, and free use of the company credit card for personal expenses. Also the prince gave her control of a second lease at a low price for the Maloney & Porcelli steak house on the hotel’s ground floor, on East 50th Street. Meanwhile Derbyshire was working hard on finding a way for Jefri to cash in on two of his biggest assets the New York Palace and Hotel Bel-Air. A prospective buyer, Ty Warner (owner of the Four Seasons New York), was found who had agreed to acquiring the two hotels for $800 million. The sell certainly would have breached the government of Brunei’s freeze of Prince Jefri’s assets and further, what bank in the world could be used to deposit the proceeds and hide it from the government of Brunei. The sell never occurred. Prince Jefri filed a suit against Derbyshire and Zaman seeking to recover $7 million in questionable expenses, Derbyshire and Zaman countersued for $13 million in contractual wages never received. In December 2010 the New York City jury awarded Derbyshire and Zaman $21 million. Prince Jefri, a father of 17 with four wives, has swapped a decadent lifestyle for a fugitive existence. He is reported to have been allowed back in Brunei. In 1997, with a new name--Le Cirque 2000--the restaurant moved from the Mayfair to the New York Palace Hotel and its landmark, the Villard Houses. Designer Adam Tihany gave Le Cirque its dazzling new look, and, as the opening approached, Siro Maccioni told New York magazine, "They're either going to give us a medal or exile us to Kilimanjaro." In 2006 Siro Maccioni moved Le Cirque from the Palace Hotel to the Bloomberg building on East 58th Street. John Segretti, the hotel’s managing director, decided The Palace Hotel should operate its own restaurant in the Villard space. In December 2005 it opened the 52-seat restaurant GILT with the interior design done by Patrick Jouin. The executive chef was Paul Liebrandt. The NY Times food critic panned Gilt two months after opening describing some entrees as “no larger than a hockey puck”. Shortly after Liebrandt was fired. In 2009 GILT was awarded Twp Michelin Stars under the direction of Executive Chef Justin Bogle. In July 2011 Northwood Investors acquired the New York Plaza for approximately $400 million. The price is low by NYC standards – held down due to the $10 million dollar a year ground lease. The seller Brunei Investment Agency also owns the Dorchester Collection of luxury hotels. The New York Palace is no longer affiliated with the Dorchester Collection. Northwood Investors is a privately-held real estate investment advisor that was founded in 2006 by John Z. Kukral, the former President and CEO of Blackstone Real Estate Advisors. It also owns the Alden Houston Hotel and The Radisson Hotel Boston. Northwood has appointed David Chase to general manager of The New York Palace. Most recently he was the pre-opening general manager of Trump SoHo New York.

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