A luxury getaway in Aspen, Colorado, has made a move toward developing a first-of-its-kind outpost in Midtown, though regulatory bumps remain.
The Little Nell, a ski resort popular with celebrities, on Monday formally applied to develop a 136-room hotel inside vacant office space at Rockefeller Center.
The application, filed with the Department of City Planning, calls for installing the hotel across 10 floors of 10 Rockefeller Plaza, a 17-story tower atop the studios of NBC’s “Today” show. Little Nell, part of the Aspen One company, is owned by Chicago’s Crown family, which also holds a stake in Rockefeller Center.
Because the lodging would require a change in the site’s use—that is, from an office to a hotel—Little Nell Big Apple must go through the lengthy city rezoning process known as the uniform land-use review procedure.
An added hurdle, and perhaps a more significant one, is that city officials must grant Little Nell Big Apple a special permit under a 2021 rule applicable to new hotels.
Supporters of the permit, created through the citywide hotels text amendment, say it’s needed because hotels can have major negative impacts on areas not used to having them.
But critics of the rule, passed at the end of the Bill de Blasio administration, call it a giveaway to the hotel workers’ union. New hotels tend to employ nonunion workers.
The special permit, which appears to have been sought infrequently in the past few years amid the hotel sector’s struggles, would be issued as part of the ULURP process, a City Planning spokesman said.
Possibly anticipating future arguments against its development, the firm behind Little Nell Big Apple says a hotel wouldn’t dramatically alter Rockefeller Center, a tourist-heavy district that sees millions of visitors during the holidays.
“The proposed hotel use will complement the existing character of the surrounding area by providing hospitality services to visitors and by contributing to the city’s tourism economy,” the application says. It adds, “The proposed hotel use will promote — not impair — the future use and development of the surrounding area.”
An email sent to an Aspen One spokesman for additional comment was not returned by press time.
Although Little Nell’s expansion plans surfaced earlier this year, Monday’s planning documents fill in some details. The hotel’s entrance, for instance, would be on West 48th between Fifth and Sixth avenues and not facing Rockefeller Center’s pedestrian plaza, which runs past its famous ice rink and Christmas tree.
The hotel’s lobby, meanwhile, would be on the seventh floor and sit next to a restaurant and lounge, while the eighth floor would offer a gym and spa. The lower floors of 10 Rockefeller Plaza, a prewar tower that is a landmark, will remain offices.
Developed in 1989 at the base of Aspen Mountain, Little Nell, which has 92 rooms plus bars and restaurants, has been popular in recent years with Jack Nicholson, Beyonce and Justin Bieber. The Manhattan site appears to be the first effort to expand the resort beyond the Rocky Mountains.
The billionaire Crown family — which has stakes in Hilton hotels, the Chicago Bulls and the New York Yankees — has controlled Aspen One since 1993, when it was known as the Aspen Skiing Co. Family scion Jim Crown died in a car crash at a Colorado race track in June.
Rockefeller Center — a 22-acre, 19-building mainstay of Midtown whose other landlord is Tishman Speyer — is in the midst of a reinvention that appears aimed at a trendy clientele. It has shaken up its roster of restaurants in recent years by installing downtown-linked offerings such as Jupiter and Pebble Bar and even leased space to a record store, Rough Trade.