Subrata Roy Sahara's great hotel sale

Written by Dilip Bobb | Updated: Aug 24 2014, 07:08am hrs
SaharaSahara bought both the hotels in 2012.
Its not just about a distress sale; the Sahara-owned hotels on the block in New York and London present some intriguing elements involving the current management

There's never quite been a sale like this before: three iconic hotel properties in New York and London being sold from inside Delhis Tihar Jail, known for having housed some of Indias most notorious criminals, and now Sahara Group chairman Subrata Roy. His release on bail depends on how fast he can strike a deal for the sale of the properties, but theres more to it than meets the eye.

Londons Grosvenor House is a historic landmark, but its the other twothe iconic Plaza Hotel and the boutique-style Dream Hotel in downtown Manhattanthat have a strong Indian connection. The Dream Hotel, a centrally-located hotel that attracts the Big Apples beautiful people, was the prized property of Vikram Chatwal Hotels, a spin-off from his father Sant Singh Chatwals Hampshire Hotels and Resorts.

Vikram Chatwal, a New York celebrity who features regularly in the citys society pages, opened Dream Hotel in 2004 and its avant-garde design, combined with luxurious interiors and a celebrity chef, caught the imagination of the citys party people. It was sold to the Sahara Group in 2012, but Hampshire Management, Chatwals company, continues to manage the property and his association still helps to attract the in crowd.

The Plaza, one of Americas most famous hotels that has hosted crowned heads, presidents and celebrities, also has a Chatwal connection. Hampshire Hotels had signed a widely publicised 20-year contract to run the Plazas Oak Room, Oak Bar and the famed Palm Courta deal the previous owners from Israel made before the sale to Sahara. For years, the quintessential Plaza experience, for those who could afford it, was having high tea at the Palm Court. Presidents, dignitaries and royalty have enjoyed its champagne and tiers of finger sandwiches and chocolate Bon Bons. In fact, New York tabloids were abuzz with speculation that the Chatwals were keen to take over the management of the entire property from Fairmont.

Sahara bought both the hotels in 2012, but the management still rests with Chatwal at the Dream Hotel and Fairmont at the Plaza. Sahara had bought a 70% stake in the Plaza from former owners, the El Ad Group, for $600 million. Kingdom Holding, the investment vehicle of Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, holds a 25% stake. Sahara followed up by buying an 85% stake in Dream Hotel for $220 million. The Chatwals hold the rest.

Both hotels have a dream location. The Plazas expansive facade stretches along Central Park South, while Dream Hotel is in the trendy Chelsea neighbourhood within walking distance of shopping and art galleries, and the fashionable neighbourhoods of SoHo, Chelsea and the West Village. The Plaza, with all its history and iconic status, is the jewel in the crown. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986. The Waldorf-Astoria is the only other New York City hotel to be designated as such.

For over a century, Plaza Hotel has stood as a symbol of New Yorks upper-crust glamour. It is the ultimate New York City luxury hotel, combining the opulent grandeur of the Beaux Arts decor with contemporary touches. The legendary hotel has 282 rooms, including 102 ultra-luxurious suites, which boast the largest square footage of any five-star hotel in New York City. Previous owners have included Conrad Hilton and Donald Trump. Trump commented on his purchase in a full-page open letter he published inThe New York Times: I havent purchased a building, I have purchased a masterpiecethe Mona Lisa. For the first time in my life, I have knowingly made a deal that was not economic.

He had paid $407.5 million in 1988. Trump sold the hotel for $325 million in 1995 to New Hampshire. In 2004, it was put up for sale and was bought for $675 million by Israeli-owned Manhattan-based developer, El Ad Properties. Carved from within the great castle-like landmark, its the Plazas magnificent public spaces that set it apart as the quintessential grand palace. The opulent Grand Ballroom and Terrace Room have been restored to their original grandeur where lavish social and business events and celebrity weddings continue to be held. The Plaza even offers tourists a tour of the hotel. Rooms here start at close to $1,000 per night, and include 24x7 butler service. It has been featured globally in numerous Hollywood films and TV serials, includingHome Alone 2in which then owner Donald Trump made a cameo appearance, directing the main character Kevin to the lobby.

More recently,The Great Gatsbyfeatured the characters Nick Carraway and Jordan Baker having a conversation in the tea garden at the hotel, while another scene in the novel features a confrontation between Jay Gatsby and Tom Buchanan in one of the suites.

The Plaza was considered the ultimate symbol of the Gatsby-inspired Gilded Age. For years, it has been the favoured stage for famous performers and guests, and the venue for important political meetings. Famous singers like Ertha Kitt, Liza Minnelli and Peggy Lee, among others, have performed at the Persian Room nightclub and the Beatles stayed here during their first visit to the US in 1964. Famed author, playwright and international celebrity Truman Capote chose the Plaza to host his acclaimed Black and White Ball in honour ofWashington Postpublisher Katherine Graham in the Grand Ballroom. In 2005, the owners decided to convert a section of the hotel into apartments and commercial spaces, and now it offers 282 hotel rooms and 152 private units. Fashion magnate Tommy Hilfiger stays in one.

If the Plaza screams head of state, the Dream has party animal written all over it. On any given day, New Yorks top models (Chatwal was one himself) can be seen in the elegant lobby or jumping into its glass-bottomed pool. Both properties have contrasting images, but are also quintessentially New York. The Dream features 315 loft-style rooms and suites, and its stainless steel facade and porthole-style windows have become a New York landmark as well. Two-hundred hand-blown glass globes float through the lobby and congregate over The Marble Lane restaurant. The rooms are an alluring mix of hip contemporary and high-end luxury. Along with Grosvenor House in London, Saharas stakes in these three hotels was valued at around $1.72 billion. Grosvenor House was valued at $879 million, the Plaza was worth $592 million and the Dream Hotel was valued at $252 million.

In terms of a combined sale, the Grosvenor House will fetch the highest bid. It opened in 1929 on the site of Grosvenor House, the former London residence of the Duke of Westminster (his family name is Grosvenor). It was the first hotel in London to have a separate bathroom and entrance lobby for each bedroom, and running iced water in every bathroom. Location-wise, it is ideal. The hotel has a pedestrian entrance on Park Lane in Mayfair, while the main entrance is on Park Street. The official address of the hotel is 86-90 Park Lane, just across Hyde Park Corner. The Great Room is one of the largest ballrooms in Europe with a capacity of 2,000. The Grosvenor is also Londons largest five-star hotel and is the venue of many prominent award evenings, charity balls and similar celebrity events telecast live on British television. The Great Room was once used as an ice rink, and thats where Queen Elizabeth II learnt to skate. The hotel is run by Marriott International even after Sahara bought the property from Royal Bank of Scotland for 470 million in 2010.

The landmark hotel could still wind up in Indian hands. Last week, Adar Poonawalla, son of billionaire Cyrus Poonawalla, declared that his family had made a 550-million offer for the 494-room hotel. The Poonawalla family are frequent visitors to London and the Grosvenor House would be, literally, just up their street. It overlooks Hyde Park and is close to Knightsbridge and Bond Street, the favourite haunt of Indias affluent classes. As a London base, it is perfectSubrata Roy had a royal suite there for his London sojourns. Cyrus Poonawalla is the 10thrichest individual in India and is used to spending large amounts to satisfy his personal passions. He is known to have spent $15 million for works by Renoir, van Gogh and other collectible artists at art auctions in London, and also recently bought a racehorse for $1.2 million at a Paris auction.

LANDMARK DEALS

Plaza Hotel, New York

* Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986

* Sahara bought it in 2012, but management rests with Fairmont

* Sahara bought a 70% stake from former owners, the El Ad Group, for $600 million. Kingdom Holding, the investment vehicle of Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, holds a 25% stake

* Has 282 rooms, including 102 ultra-luxurious suites. In 2005, the owners converted a section of the hotel into apartments and commercial spaces, so now it also has 152 private units

* Rooms start at around $1,000 per night and include 24x7 butler service

* Previous owners include Conrad Hilton and Donald Trump, who paid $407.5 million for it in 1988. Trump sold the hotel for $325 million in 1995 to New Hampshire. In 2004, it was put up for sale and was bought for $675 million by Manhattan-based developer El Ad Properties

Dream Hotel, New York

* American hotelier Vikram Chatwal opened it in 2004

* Sold to Sahara Group in 2012, but Hampshire Management, Chatwals company, continues to manage the property

* Sahara bought an 85% stake in the hotel for $220 million. The Chatwals hold the rest

* Hotel has 315 loft-style rooms and suites

Grosvenor House, London

* Opened in 1929 on the site of Grosvenor House, the former London residence of the Duke of Westminster

* Run by Marriott International even after Sahara bought the property from Royal Bank of Scotland for 470 million in 2010

* In terms of a combined sale, Grosvenor House, Londons largest five-star hotel, will fetch the highest bid

* Last week, Adar Poonawalla, son of billionaire Cyrus Poonawalla, declared that his family had made a 550-million offer for the 494-room hotel