By Terry Trucco
The Hotel Carter, Times Square’s notorious flophouse, was in the news today once again. But this time was different.
A night manager wasn’t stabbed as in 1999. A dead body wasn’t discovered under a bed as in 2007. And TripAdvisor didn’t hail the hotel one of the dirtiest in the United States, a distinction the Carter held for years until the site scrapped its list a couple of years back.
The news, as reported by DNAinfo New York, is that the hotel is cleaning up its act, possibly with an eye to a sale. “Despite its poor shape, the Carter is an extremely valuable asset. The hotel’s size, location and lack of debt put its estimated worth at more than $100 million, according to court papers,” reporter James Fanelli writes.
If ever a property was ripe for a teardown – or a fumigate-everything-pull-out-all-the-stops renovation – it’s the Carter. There’s no denying it’s heart-of-Times Square location, steps away from where the New Year’s Eve ball drops, makes it a very valuable piece of turf, but that’s been true for years. Why is a sale in the picture now?
In March 2013, the hotel’s long-time owner Truong Dinh Tran died at the age of 80. An
enigmatic businessman who made a fortune transporting U.S. military supplies during the Vietnam war, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1975 carrying two suitcases stuffed with $7 million in gold and cash. Among his purchases in the U.S. were a hotel in Buffalo and the 700-room Carter, where he had lived with his four mistresses – and his 15 children — in 35 connected rooms.
Following his death, management of the Carter fell to two of the women, neither of whom boasted any hotel experience. To complicate matters, Tran did not leave a will. Before long, Tran’s paramours and children were squabbling so heatedly over the assets that Manhattan Surrogate’s Court stepped and last November appointed a temporary administrator to sift through the mess.
Enter Stanley Parness, a former state judge active in Times Square redevelopment. In April, he persuaded the mistresses to hand over management of the hotel to him temporarily. Among his less-than-startling discoveries: the hotel was underinsured, corporate contracts were missing, and employees were routinely paid for no-show jobs.
“I have new management in there, and we’re getting the hotel into shape,” Parness told DNAinfo. “We’re looking to increase the income and take care of whatever physical problems there might be.”
Revenues were up, he added.
Asked if a sale was in the hotel’s future, “We’re exploring different possibilities and quite frankly the effect of estate taxes,” Parness told DNAinfo.
The Carter isn’t the Plaza – and never aspired to be. But no longer is it the horrific pervert pit it once was as I discovered when I stopped by earlier this year after the hotel made a cameo appearance on the TV show Smash!
The lobby still looked like it was imported from Soviet-era Minsk, with an acoustic tile ceiling and faux marble paneling. A barefoot woman in a bomber jacket snored softly on a sofa, not far from a large garbage can planted prominently by the elevator. But the furniture was new since the last time I’d visited, and the carpeting looked fresh. And the rehabbed entry way – freshly plastered walls, plaster ceiling roundels, shiny metal steps – was sufficiently spiffy to warrant a few seconds on Smash!
Recent TripAdvisor reviewers are also humming a different tune – at least some of them. “We are ALWAYS impressed with the wonderful, friendly service we get from the incredible staff,” exalts Roblorr of Coral Springs, Florida. “We wanted something cheap . . . and I could not have asked for a better hotel to stay in,” writes Liverpool’s KirstyL 1990 who also gave the place five stars.
On the other hand, Ireland’s barryd57’s two-star take sounds more like, well, the Carter. “Great place to stay if u wanna get drunk with your friends and not care abt noise…….some halls remind of the film the shining…….lifts sometimes worked,card for door sometimes worked…..”
Still, a five-star review was wildly beyond the Carter’s grasp when I first visited the hotel for Overnight New York. It truly was a dump. Times Square doesn’t need another luxury hotel. But a budget property that’s clean and safe and doesn’t evoke The Shining? Fingers crossed.