Party’s over: Iconic NYC venues struggling amid pandemic
On July 9, Manhattan’s uber-swanky party venue Gotham Hall hosted its first event since the pandemic hit in March.
The ballroom, where Elton John and Mariah Carey have performed for private events, had donated the sumptuous space — complete with marble floors, 70-foot ceilings and stained-glass skylight — to the New York Blood Center for a blood drive.
Only 17 people showed up.
“We had our sanitation crew come into the building for the first time since March 11,” Gotham Hall’s managing director, B. Allan Kurtz, told The Post about the depressing affair.
The measly turnout, industry sources say, reflects the gloomy outlook facing iconic Big Apple party spaces — from Gotham Hall to the Rainbow Room to the Plaza Hotel — as the coronavirus pandemic wears on.
Once bustling with stylish weddings, splashy corporate galas and charitable balls peppered with A-listers, New York City’s glamorous party venues have been sitting dormant for months, unable to make money. Industry sources now say they don’t see an out until 2021 at the earliest — raising questions about whether the city’s famed party venues will even survive.
“This is a dire situation,” said Arthur Backal, who runs the Mandarin Oriental’s party spaces, among others. “Before the fall season we will hear about venues that are closing for good.”
The Copacabana in Times Square was shuttered in May, and the events staff at the luxurious St. Regis Hotel in Midtown East was recently laid off, sources told The Post.
The Plaza Hotel, where Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones were married, has already moved some 90 parties booked for this year, said Mike Warren, director of events at the posh Central Park South location. Warren now expects twice as many bookings to be moved or canceled by the end of the year, representing tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue, he told The Post.
On Friday, an array of professionals who rely on the party industry — including caterers, DJs and audio-visual engineers — set up 48 empty tables with chairs in Times Square to draw attention to their plight as federal lawmakers hammer out another coronavirus stimulus program.
Their concern is that the party industry, estimated to generate $10 billion in annual sales in the region, has been frozen out of billions in pandemic aid going to other industries because the loans are based on the number of employees brought back to work.
“We need a bridge from now until these businesses reopen,” Warren said of the industry”s request to lawmakers.
Right now their best hope is for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to OK small indoor gatherings of 10 to 50 people in the city starting this fall, which could lead to some bookings — albeit less lucrative than before.
“If someone called a year ago and said we have an event for 25 guests, I would have said, ‘We are too large for that,’ ” Kurtz of Gotham Hall told The Post. “Now when someone calls for an event for 10 people we listen to them. We would consider renting the space for $10,000.”
To keep the lights on, Gotham Hall is also researching whether it might also rent to schools that need space to adhere to new social distancing rules. The city, for example, has issued requests for proposals for spaces to accommodate public school children at $40 per child for the day, which is a far cry from the $25,000 to $75,000 fee Gotham Hall charges for the use of its space.
Kurtz is hopeful, however, that private schools and universities might make a better offer. “We can set up a lecture hall for 200 people,” he said.
The Gotham Hall director is also in discussions with prominent funeral homes, including Frank E. Campbell, to host small memorials.
The Plaza — famous for its lavish 300-person weddings that can cost upwards of $400 a plate, or $120,000 — is considering opening its doors to “micro-weddings” of 10 or 20 people, although guests can opt to add dozens more guests virtually. The lowest possible cost for these intimate weddings, however, will be $25,000, Warren said.
“We need at least that amount to cover our costs.”
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