Ground zero hotel wants to attract 9/11 tourists

NEW YORK – Looking down into the
construction site covering the 16 acres where the World Trade Center once
stood, some might see a place shadowed by death.

But
Cheryl Palmer sees a rebirth – and a business opportunity. She’s vice president
of Club
Quarters

Inc., the company opening the World Center Hotel – and as far as she’s concerned,
the property’s location on the edge of the site of the Sept. 11 attacks is a
selling point.

“People
choose to be here because they want to be close to it. They want to feel it,
they want to celebrate. They want to remember,” she said, standing by an
open-air patio overlooking the site. “We have a very accessible
view
on
it.”

The
hotel, which began taking reservations last month, offers some rooms with
floor-to-ceiling windows that open directly onto the construction. Guests and
members will have access to the restaurant patio with views of giant cranes, jackhammers and metal scaffolding.

It
seems to be the first area hotel to use its proximity to the site as a marketing
strategy. The carefully chosen name telegraphs the hotel’s location to
prospective guests. And visitors to the hotel Web site are greeted by construction
photographs

and memorial images.

The
Millenium
Hilton

nearby offers similar views from most of its rooms – which were devastated in
the collapse of
the twin towers
and then rebuilt in the following years. With 85 percent of the
hotel’s current employees carrying with them memories of working there at the
time of the attacks, it still feels too soon to incorporate ground zero into
its marketing plan, said Jan Larsen, general manager of the hotel.

“People
are sensitive to maybe being perceived as taking advantage of a tragedy by
utilizing that in any kind of promotional information,” Larsen said.
“We still get customers here who didn’t realize we were across the street
from ground zero, and they get emotional about it.”

Some,
Larsen said, say that had they realized the location of the hotel, they would
not have chosen to stay there.

But
Club
Quarters

is making a bet that, for many, the site of the attacks is already becoming
more what it will be – and less a shadow of what it was. The scar of metal and
concrete gated off from the rest of the city will soon be brightened by trees
to be planted before the 10th anniversary of the attacks, Palmer is quick to
note. And the public memorial is set to open in 2011.

“They
will have all those mixed emotions. But I think at the end of the day what
people leave here with is the rebuilding,” Palmer said.

Driving
up to the hotel, Greg McKinless was excited to see how close to the
construction he would be, he said as he checked in one day last week.

“I
thought, ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be neat to be up on the sixth or seventh floor and
really see the work in progress?'” the Baltimore salesman said. “You
could say it’s depressing, but you could also say it’s been nine years, the
Freedom Tower is going up and there’s going to be a memorial. We’re looking
toward the future.”

For
guests with the right view, the construction can be a 24-hour spectacle. The
yellow bulldozers and workers in hardhats continue their work all day and
night. The hotel has installed special soundproof windows that keep out much
(though not all) of the noise. And dark curtains block the light from the work.

For
now, the restaurant and patio are still a construction site. Most floors in the
hotel have yet to be completed. The lower part of the building’s shell is all
that remains of the office building that was destroyed in the terrorist attack.

With
169 planned rooms (introductory rates as low as $99 on weekends and $179
weekdays) and corporate apartments, the hotel’s planners would need to attract
only a fraction of the nearly 4,000 people who visit the 9/11 Memorial Preview
Site each day. Once the official memorial is open, officials estimate 7.1
million people will visit it in the first year.

Meanwhile,
the view the new hotel affords of the site is an unusual one. With the fencing
around much of the site blocking sightlines of the construction,
camera-wielding tourists can be seen throughout the neighbourhood craning their
necks and trying to get a better look. The National September 11 Memorial &
Museum directs frustrated visitors indoors, where they’ve set up a live-camera
view of the site for those who want to see the rebuilding.

After
climbing some steps in a fruitless effort to see inside the pit, Josh Rowlands
said he would be glad to have a view over the site from his hotel room.

“You
want to be able to see what’s going on after you’ve traveled all this
way,” said the 23-year-old from Adelaide, Australia.

But
not all are convinced they would want their vacation vista to include this
particular construction site.

“I
wouldn’t stay there,” Michael Meindorfer said on his visit to ground zero
from Frankfurt, Germany. “To go everyday and come home and see something
like this. … It’s sad.”

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