By David Brand
February 17, 2021
The Sheraton LaGuardia East in Flushing used to buzz with hundreds of tourists, business travelers, conference-goers and banquet attendees. The 173-room hotel operated at 80 to 90 percent capacity most days, with 180 employees welcoming guests at the front desk, cleaning rooms, preparing food and catering large gatherings.
That was before the pandemic. Today, there are just 35 employees and the hotel is 20-percent full on a good day.
“It’s a very sad event to experience,” said Sheraton LaGuardia Manager Edward Staniszewski. “Our business basically came to a halt.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a devastating toll on Staniszewski’s hotel and hundreds of others across New York City.
Over 200 hotels in the five boroughs have closed, leaving tens of thousands of people out of work. With tourism at a standstill and bills for fixed costs, like property tax payments, due each month, it will only get worse, Staniszewski warned.
“More and more will be closing,” he said. “The flow is not coming back at the pace expenses are building up.”
The grim outlook has galvanized local elected officials behind a proposal to suspend interest penalties for late hotel property tax payments. Companies face 18 percent interest rates on the late payments — an additional burden for lodgings in serious financial trouble.
“New York City is a tourist destination and the hotel industry plays a large role in our economy,” said Councilmember Adrienne Adams. “We must work collectively to provide relief and preserve this industry.”
Adams is one of at least 10 Queens officials to announce their support for the plan proposed by the The Hotel Association of NYC. Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and Councilmembers Peter Koo, Karen Koslowitz, Adrienne Adams, Robert Holden, Jimmy Van Bramer, Paul Vallone, Costa Constantinides, Eric Ulrich and Francisco Moya have all called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to suspend the late payment penalties.
HANYC President and CEO Vijay Dandapani said the proposal is a crucial step for shoring up the industry and preventing closures and lay-offs.
“Hotels need critical, immediate help from City Hall to stay open and to protect the livelihoods of tens-of-thousands of New Yorkers and their families,” Dandapani said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that he would “examine” a moratorium on the late-payment penalty.
“We want to always be creative in how we address this situation, but we also have to make sure that we continue to get the revenue we need to serve the people of this city,” he told reporters.
Property taxes and the related penalties fund city services, including 200 million free meals for New Yorkers, de Blasio continued.
“But I’m going to look at this issue,” he said. “I do care a lot about the hospitality industry. I want them to come back strong.”
Just over one-third of New York City hotel rooms were occupied in December 2020 compared to 88 percent in 2019, according to hotel data company STR. Queens is home to more hotel rooms than any borough outside Manhattan.
Like hotels across the city, the Sheraton LaGuardia has slashed rates during the pandemic. Rooms that ranged from $275 to $349 now cost about $152, according to travel company pricing.
Staniszewski said the owners have committed to keeping the lodgings open as long as possible. There’s little alternative, he said.
“If you close the doors, then there’s the possibility you never open them again,” he said. “It’s just such a sad thing to see when we were the most vibrant city.”