NYC’s Four Seasons hotel is up against the Beanie Babies mogul

New York’s Four Seasons Hotel has remained conspicuously closed since the start of the pandemic — and insiders say it risks staying closed for years because of an increasingly bizarre feud with the billionaire founder of the Beanie Babies toy empire.

At 57 East 57th St., the luxury icon designed by architect IM Pei — whose opulent Ty Warner penthouse suite fetched $50,000 a night before the hotel closed in March 2020 — looks like an abandoned building.

The grand Art Nouveau-inspired entryways of the 54-story tower are blocked off by metal pedestrian barricades. The flags on the French limestone facade are lowered, and the front windows are covered with brown paper and advertising posters.

Although all the luxury competitors of Four Seasons – The Ritz-Carlton, The Palace, the St. Regis, The Carlyle and Mandarin Oriental—reopened more than a year ago and are said to be doing solid business. Great business comes as demand for luxury travel.

The entrances are barricaded and the windows of the once posh boutiques are covered with brown paper.
Helayne Seidman for the NY Post
The Four Seasons Hotel on E. 57th Street is closed as of March 2020.
The Four Seasons Hotel on E. 57th Street is closed as of March 2020.
Helayne Seidman for the NY Post

Neighbors are skeptical of claims on the Four Seasons’ website that the Midtown Manhattan landmark is “temporarily closed for significant infrastructure and renovations expected to last through 2022” — language that has been in place since last fall, even as the hotel told union representatives that 2022- aims to reopen in the spring of 2018.

“I’ve never seen trucks parked outside the building carrying stuff out,” said the 9 West 57th St. resident. August Ceradini, who runs Eight and a Half, a restaurant in the lobby of a nearby luxury office tower. “There’s no type of activity inside that suggests they’re rebuilding anything.”

In fact, sources told The Post that the hotel is in foreclosure following an epic contract dispute between the Four Seasons management company and Ty Warner, the one-man toy mogul who owns the luxury high-rise. According to property records, the hotel had been losing money for years before the pandemic hit.

Ty Warner is leaning on the balcony.
Ty Warner purchased the NYC Four Seasons property in 1999 for $275 million.
Corbis via Getty Images

Warner — a former door-to-door encyclopedia salesman who was valued at $3.8 billion by Forbes after masterminding the Beanie Babies plush toy craze of the 1990s — It waived the stiff renovation fees demanded by Four Seasons, sources said. In response, the hotel chain rejected his request to adjust his fees according to the hotel’s profitability or lack thereof, according to the sources.

“It’s clear that the Four Seasons and Ty Warner don’t see each other too well, which makes it difficult to come to an agreement and move forward,” said a source with knowledge of the situation.

Warner and the Four Seasons, which do not own any of the more than 100 hotels under its banner worldwide but instead manage them for different owners, have been negotiating for the past 18 months under a clause in their contract that covers dispute resolution. , keeping secret negotiations out of the public eye. Industry experts told The Post that it’s not unusual for such cases to take years to resolve.

Hotel check-in on better days.
The hotel was once the most expensive hotel in Manhattan, costing more than $1,000 a night.
Seth Gottfried

“He’s not selling the building,” another hotel insider said of Warner, estimating the hotel will take three to four years to open. “He’s not a suffering owner and he has a management contract with the Four Seasons and they’re at war.”

As travel returns to the Big Apple, industry insiders wonder if the city’s most valuable hotel will ever regain its reputation. As The Post previously reported, the extended shutdown fuels speculation that Warner, 78, is trying to get out of his long-term contract with the Four Seasons. Industry insiders say it’s likely to be an uptick.

“The owner is saddled with a contract — he can’t throw them out and go for the Rosewood or the Dorchester,” one hotel insider told The Post, referring to the owners of The Carlyle and Beverly Hills hotels in Los Angeles.

“What’s more interesting to me is how people can have such incredible wealth and just keep it there,” the source added.

Ty Warner is covered in Beanie Babies.
Ty Warner became a billionaire from Beanie Babies in the 1990s.
Getty Images

A rep for Ty Warner did not return calls or emails for comment. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts also did not respond to requests for comment.

Warner bought the property in 1999 for $275 million — just seven years after the hotel opened, spending $475 million on its developers. At that time, it was reported that the hotel had an annual operating income of 30 million dollars. Several industry insiders tell The Post that the business has had a rough ride since then.

“Ty didn’t like the way Four Seasons was running the hotel because it wasn’t making any money, and that was the genesis of the whole feud between them,” said Ceradini, a veteran hospitality executive and former St. Petersburg manager. Regis Hotel. “From what I understand about Ty Warner’s personality, he won’t stop until he gets what he wants.”

Four Seasons lost money in 2018 and 2019, according to city records. According to Sean Hennessey, a professor at New York University, many Big Apple luxury hotels saw their earnings hit in the pre-pandemic years amid rising wages and increased competition from new hotels. York University’s Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality.

“There are few things that frustrate the owner that the manager is being paid well even though the property isn’t making any profit,” Hennessy said.

Ty Warner in a suit and tie.
Ty Warner and Four Seasons Hotel and Resorts are said to remain in a bitter dispute over contract terms.
Tribune News Service via Getty I

Another challenge, according to an industry source: “Four Seasons has a lot of rooms. They are big and it is difficult.”

Hotel workers, meanwhile, are suing Warner and the Four Seasons, alleging they “intentionally stalled reopening” to avoid paying millions of dollars in unpaid wages and severance pay, according to a proposed class-action lawsuit filed in lower Manhattan federal court in August.

A similar lawsuit was filed in February by employees of Warner’s still-shuttered Biltmore hotel in Santa Barbara, California — also a Four Seasons property — leading some to speculate that Warner was waging “guerrilla warfare” against the Four Seasons. Santa Barbara Independent. The Biltmore’s 450 employees say they are owed up to $8 million in severance payments.

The hotel was closed “for reasons other than those presented to the plaintiffs,” the New York complaint says, noting that the hotel has been renovated several times over the years and has “never been closed to guests.”

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