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Condo sales begin at revamped Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York

Reconfigured hotel has 375 condo units from studios to four-bedrooms and 2 penthouses, plus 375 hotel rooms

New York

WHEN China's Anbang Insurance Group paid US$1.95 billion for the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York back in 2015, it was one of the priciest hotel deals ever.

A partial condo conversion of the top floors followed, and a refurbished hotel was planned for the lower floors.

But the luxury residential market has cooled significantly since then. Anbang has also run into its own problems, as Chinese regulators took over the privately held company and its chairman was sent to prison for fraud. Now sales have begun at the condominium project, one of New York's most highly anticipated, and developers will see if they can succeed despite setbacks - and if the colossal price tag was worth it. The combined condo-and-hotel project is slated to open in 2022.

"A lot of people have been waiting for something that is unique and extraordinary and about as far from cookie-cutter as you can get," said Andrew Miller, chief executive of the American division of Dajia Insurance Group, the company that has taken control of Anbang's American properties. "We believe that this is going to be that."

The 47-storey Waldorf, in its reconfigured form, includes 375 condo units, from studios to four-bedrooms, plus two penthouses. Below, known as the Towers of the Waldorf Astoria, are 375 hotel rooms that Hilton will continue to operate under a long-term lease.

Previously, the hotel, which opened in 1931 and welcomed every US president from Herbert Hoover to Barack Obama, as well as movie stars, diplomats and musicians, had 1,413 rooms, so units have gotten larger as the total number has been vastly reduced, developers said.

The lighting throughout will be brighter than in the deco days, when "utterly funereal" interiors were common, Mr Miller said.

The limestone exterior has undergone a major makeover, too. Cooling equipment on the roof was moved inside for a cleaner look, according to Dajia, and several roofs on the tapering high-rise have become landscaped terraces. A new entrance for residents was also created.

But the building, which was redesigned by architects Skidmore Owings & Merrill and interior designer Jean-Louis Deniot, has not been totally reinvented.

City officials voted to give landmark status to the Waldorf's lobby, which runs the length of the building, in 2017, the same year Anbang closed the hotel to begin demolition.

The exterior has been a landmark since 1993, so elements like the 5,300 windows have not been substantially altered.

As a result, apartment interiors do not offer the floor-to-ceiling vistas that buyers have come to expect from modern condominiums. Instead, the rooms have an understated, Old World vibe. Custom tiles with Waldorf Astoria motifs adorn the master bathrooms, while marble counters and grey-toned cabinets are found in kitchens, with brass-inlay details on floors.

If the interiors are restrained, the 25th floor amenity offering - open to residents only - may seem over the top, with a pool, bars, game rooms, a library, a theatre, a spa and a gym, plus a plant-filled greenhouse-like "garden room" - part of 50,000 square feet of amenities, inside and out.

Residents can also avail themselves of hotel offerings such as room service, and the public lobby will have restaurants and bars.

Sales, which are being handled by Douglas Elliman Development Marketing, will begin slowly, Mr Miller said, with 75 units offered initially. Studios start US$1.7 million, a project spokesman said, while one-bedroom apartments begin at US$2.6 million and up.

Some analysts said that the Waldorf's "reasonable" pricing, coupled with classic architecture and a convenient location, should greatly benefit the project.

"I think this building has a very good chance of being extremely successful even in difficult market conditions," said Nancy Packes, president of Nancy Packes Data Services, who is not involved with the project. NYTIMES