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'Condo Hotels' Energize the Lodging Market


You know what a hotel is, of course. And perhaps, a condominium -- which is a residential building divided into separate units that are owned by different people. Now the two have come together in something called a "condo hotel."

While several can now be found in beach and mountain resort towns and a few modest-sized cities, none is more famous than the legendary Plaza Hotel in New York.

Singers Peggy Lee and Eartha Kitt played the Persian Room at The Plaza, on Manhattan's glitzy Fifth Avenue across from Central Park. The actress and singer Kay Thompson wrote a smash children's book series about a girl named "Eloise" who lived there. And multi-million-dollar deals were struck in what used to be the cigar-friendly Oak Room bar.

The Plaza closed for renovation last year. When it reopens next year, more than half of it will be one of these trendy condo hotels.

Here's how it works: You buy -- not rent, buy -- what amounts to an apartment or suite. If it's at The Plaza, it will cost you between on 1.5 and 9 million dollars! But hey, New York's expensive, right??

So you own a piece of a landmark. But there's a catch! You may stay there no more than 120 days a year! The rest of the time, the hotel's reservation folks downstairs can book guests into your place, just as they would at a regular hotel or motel. The good news for you, though, is that whatever Mr. Cleaver from Cleveland and Ms. Dow from Dubuque pay to stay there goes to you, minus housekeeping charges and a management fee.

So if you're lucky -- and rich -- up to one-third of the year you can now live in, and show off, really special quarters, while others pay off your mortgage!

Now, you can't furnish it with beanbag chairs and iridescent Elvis paintings and your beer-can collection -- or anything else that would turn off paying guests. The hotel picks the furnishings and the bath towels and so forth.

And that's one more disadvantage to these condo hotels. Since the towels and ashtrays and even the mints on the pillow belong to you, you can't very well steal one and stick it in your suitcase!

More essays in Ted Landphair's Only in America series