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Times Square bets big on tourism recovery

Times Square bets big on tourism recovery

People pose for a selfie in Times Square during the coronavirus disease pandemic in the Manhattan borough of New York City, November 10, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

A line from popular Chinese TV series A Native of Beijing in New York from the early 1990s is now an apt description of the post-pandemic future of Times Square: “If you love him, send him to New York, for it’s heaven. If you hate him, send him to New York, for it’s hell.”

Tourists are returning to Times Square. A slew of new projects in the “crossroads of the world”, including luxury hotels and others, getting major upgrades signal a big bet on tourism and entertainment.

However, offices in the area remain largely vacant, and crime in the neighborhood is skyrocketing.

The number of average daily visitors to Times Square is more than 133 percent higher compared with last year, according to nonprofit Times Square Alliance.

“We’ve seen six weekends in a row with pedestrian counts over 300,000. We just did our latest storefront survey, and over 80 percent of our businesses are open. We’re seeing developers very bullish on Times Square,” Tom Harris, president of the alliance, told China Daily.

“I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand, and people really want to get out and live their lives.”

Real estate heavyweights are investing in hotels as tourists come back. A massive new Hard Rock Hotel with a “rock star” duplex penthouse and outdoor pool opened on West 48th Street last week, the newest hotel in Times Square.

Three more hotels are in the assembly and design stage, according to the alliance’s annual report.

Jamestown, owner of One Times Square, where the ball drops every New Year’s Eve, is expected to announce a major upgrade, reported The Wall Street Journal.

New York state has a ban on new casinos until 2023, but Governor Kathy Hochul, along with real estate companies, casino operators and labor unions, wants to lift the ban this year. Hochul’s budget would allow up to three casinos in the city. Developers have pitched a number of locations.

Office landlord SL Green Realty wants to build a casino in Manhattan. In an earnings call, CEO Marc Holliday made the case for building it in Times Square, reported the Journal.

While Times Square’s hotel occupancy rate has hit 80 percent of pre-pandemic levels, only 36 percent of office workers in the New York metropolitan area were back at their desks at the start of April, according to Kastle Systems, which tracks keycard swipes, far below the more than 90 percent norm before the pandemic.

Many people are still working remotely, and those who have returned are not there for the pre-pandemic typical five-day work week.

About 20 percent of businesses in the neighborhood are closed, as are six hotels. While the number of people passing through the area is increasing dramatically, it is still down 19 percent from the same period in 2019.

Meanwhile, crime rate is still rising in the city. Crime across Manhattan’s Midtown South district has spiked by more than 50 percent year to date. In Times Square, crime was up 20 percent in January from last year, according to the Times Square Alliance.

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