tall building in city skylineEric Rank, courtesy BDB Construction

Hotel Conversions make Post-Pandemic Sense

Empty tall buildings in big U.S. cities are finding new lives as apartments for college students

By Doug Carroll, Contributing Writer  

The Marriott East Hotel was a New York City landmark, designed more than 100 years ago by Arthur Loomis Harmon, the architect of the Empire State Building.  

With its Romanesque Revival façade, the building at 525 Lexington Ave. in Midtown Manhattan remains a landmark. However, it’s not the Marriott East anymore.  

It’s not a hotel at all. 

Given new life after its closing in 2020 and sale in early 2023, it’s now FOUND Study Turtle Bay, a residence hall offering students, interns and other academic program participants 1,355 beds of housing plus amenities in its 34 stories.  

The conversion of the grand hotel took only seven months from project start to clearance for initial occupancy. It was the work of BDB Construction Enterprise, the New York-based general contractor for owner FOUND Study, a fast-growing student housing brand in five U.S. cities.  

BDB also converted a nearby DoubleTree by Hilton, at 569 Lexington Ave., to student apartments in about the same amount of time. That property, with 800 beds, now goes by FOUND Study Midtown East. 

You can credit Tallal Bhutta, BDB’s founder and CEO, with being ready when opportunity knocked. Bhutta launched BDB in 2011 as a masonry and roofing contractor, and the company has evolved into a general contracting enterprise that handles complex renovations, turning them around quickly. 

The COVID-19 pandemic sent the value of hotels plummeting, allowing those properties to be acquired more affordably. With much of the necessary infrastructure already in place, they became desirable options for higher education providers in dense urban areas where available land is scarce and construction costs can be exorbitant. 

Related Content: Flatiron Building in NYC Latest Office to Multifamily Conversion

“Hotels are built much safer than industrial buildings or factories, with many systems in place,” Bhutta says. “Conversion is not that big of a deal. The scope of work is easier. 

“There is no comparison to what it costs to build from the ground up.” 

Facility managers are consulted very early in the process, Bhutta says, for their knowledge of existing heating, sprinkler and mechanical systems. FOUND Study Turtle Bay has single, double, triple and quad rooms, and amenities include a fitness center, laundry room, game room, performing arts studio, study room, community kitchen and lounges. 

The two properties in Manhattan represent “the future of student housing in New York City,” according to FOUND Study representative Andrea Colagrande. Institutions served by the residences include LIM College, Manhattan Marymount College and CUNY Baruch College. 

Other BDB projects include renovations of a building for Baruch College and New York University; a conversion creating residences leased by Hunter College as student housing; and the transformation of a factory and warehouse building into a mixed-use church in the Bronx. 

“We previously did building conversions, but we began with hotels after the pandemic,” Bhutta said. “Everybody wants (to buy) hotels these days. The infrastructure is in place and the cost is favorable.” 

Doug Carroll is a freelance writer from Chandler, Arizona. 

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  posted on 2/16/2024   Article Use Policy

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