Nanny On A Mission

(The New York Times) Sue Downey was standing before a packed room in Midtown recently, extolling the benefits of cotton balls.

“The most fun you will ever have with a 7-year-old is a cotton ball, a straw and a wood floor,” she said, telling the 90 nannies in the audience to use the straw to blow the ball from one end of the room to the other. “Now, introduce a stopwatch to the game, and they can also practice telling time.”

The Saturday seminar, which covered topics like early-childhood development, résumé building and mental health, was the brainchild of Alene Mathurin, a nanny and organizer. After the presentation by Ms. Downey, a nanny in Philadelphia, Ms. Mathurin took the microphone.

“I want you to stand up and close your eyes,” Ms. Mathurin said in her singsong Caribbean accent. “I want you to picture yourself exactly how you see yourself, and I want to tell you some things about yourself. “I want you to know that you are beautiful. I want you to know that you are enough.” Some of the nannies called out in agreement. “I want you to know that you are all woman. And while you are doing this, I want you to exhale.”

Ms. Mathurin, 43, is the founder of My Nanny Circle, a grass-roots group that focuses on the training and empowerment of caregivers. The organization is not political, but on this particular Saturday, it was impossible to ignore the events that had unfolded in Washington the day before. President Trump had signed an executive order curtailing immigration, and anxieties were high. According to the Economic Policy Institute, a research organization in Washington, about 38 percent of nannies in New York State are non-naturalized immigrants.

Chasing Waldorf's History as it Becomes History Itself

(The New York Times) The Waldorf Astoria hotel in Manhattan is known for its grand public spaces, such as its two-tiered ballroom and vast lobby. But upstairs, in a windowless corner of the hotel’s administrative offices, Deidre Dinnigan toils in a cramped room not much larger than a closet. Ms. Dinnigan, the hotel’s archivist, is responsible for cataloging and researching more than 4,000 objects, from filigreed brass room numbers to yellowing advertisements from the 1950s.

“I love what I do,” Ms. Dinnigan said during a recent interview, her tall frame squeezed between a table obscured by books and a tower of filing cabinets. A mannequin dressed in an old bellhop uniform was stationed where her desk chair would normally go. “I believe I would throw myself into any field,” she said, “but there is something about the Waldorf, especially if you love New York and social history.”



Deidre Dinnigan has been working at the Waldorf Astoria as the hotel’s archivist for over a year. CreditAlex Wroblewski/The New York Times

How Fredrik Eklund, Broker and Reality TV Star, Spends His Sundays

(The New York Times) You could say that the Swedish-born Fredrik Eklund, 39, is a triple threat. Besides being an associate real estate broker at Douglas Elliman, he is a star of a Bravo reality series, “Million Dollar Listing New York,” which just wrapped up its fifth season, and an author of “The Sell: The Secrets of Selling Anything to Anyone.” When he is not in front of the camera, writing or selling, Mr. Eklund likes to relax with his husband, Derek Kaplan, 41, an abstract painter, and their miniature dachshunds, Mini Mouse and Fritzy, who all live in a three-bedroom loft in TriBeCa

Before the Trumps, There Were the Wendels

(The New York Times) The most well-known developer in New York today may be a man with national aspirations and a propensity to talk off the top of his extravagantly coifed head, but a century ago, the headlines were commanded by a real estate family with an aversion to publicity and the trappings of wealth.

In the early 20th century, the Wendels were perhaps the most powerful landlords in New York City, a dynasty with more than 150 properties in Manhattan worth over $1 billion in today’s dollars. The Wendels were the delight of the local papers, for, rich as they were, the family — six sisters and a brother, all unmarried — lived together in a shuttered mansion without electricity on the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 39th Street, and dressed in grim Victorian garb that had gone out of style half a century earlier. Tour buses regularly pulled up in front of “the House of Mystery.”

In their day, they were known as “the Weird Wendels.” John G. Wendel II, the brother, was alternately referred to as “the hermit” and “the recluse” of Fifth Avenue.

“Of all the families floated to affluence by rising waves of Manhattan real estate values, the Wendels were the quietest and the queerest,” wrote Arthur Pound in his 1935 book, “The Golden Earth: The Story of Manhattan’s Landed Wealth.” “They lived simply on the most expensive residential site in New York City,” he continued, and “drew less fun from their fortune than a bricklayer gets out of his weekly wage.”

Waldorf Astoria and Hotel Workers Union Reach $149 Million Deal for Severance Payouts

(The New York Times) When a Chinese insurance firm bought the Waldorf Astoria Hotel for $1.95 billion this year, it said it planned to convert part of the aging building into high-end condominiums, while maintaining a smaller five-star hotel.

Standing in its way were the hotel’s 1,221 union workers, whose jobs were protected by the Waldorf Astoria’s contract with the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, a union that represents hotel workers.

Now, the owners of the Waldorf, New York’s largest union hotel employer, have reached a record deal with the union in which the hotel could pay almost $149 million in severance packages to its employees over the next two years. The average payout will be more than $142,000, with a handful of employees eligible for more than $300,000. One longtime worker is walking away with $656,409.68.

And Some Background....

I was meeting with Peter Ward, the head of the powerful New York Hotel & Motel Trades Council on a book I am writing on the Plaza Hotel when he gave me this scoop. It led the local Metro Section in the paper, which is awesome. I'm still hoping to track down the employee who was awarded a $656,000 severance package!


New York City's Hotel Boom Is Keeping Prices Down

(WNYC.ORG) The Baccarat Hotel and Residences, an imposing high rise in Midtown where rooms go for $1,500 a night, is one of the city’s newest hotels. The 114-room hotel is dripping in crystal, from the champagne flutes it serves in the grand salon to the ornate vases that decorate the tables.

But while the Baccarat may be one of the city’s newest hotels, it certainly is not its only one. In fact, more than 13,000 rooms are under construction, a historic boom that is the equivalent of all of the hotels being built in Houston, Miami and Chicago combined.

The 'Grand Salon' of the recently opened Baccarat Hotel across the street from the MOMA. (Baccarat Hotel & Residences)

Want a Green Card? Invest in Real Estate

(The New York Times) Like many of her fellow classmates at New York University, Yanchu Zhao has a busy schedule. A college junior, she has a double major in economics and journalism, and juggles classes, an internship and life with roommates in a rental near Herald Square.

But unlike many of her fellow classmates, Ms. Zhao came to the United States on a student visa. “A lot of students talked about how hard it was to get a job in New York and in the United States,” she said. “My parents heard that if I can get a green card, it would be easier for me to succeed.”

So two years ago, Ms. Zhao’s parents invested $500,000 in a hotel project on Bryant Park, knowing that their investment could be parlayed into green cards for the family. Three months ago, their paperwork came through and the Zhaos became permanent residents of the United States.

Yi Lin and his wife, Molly Xi, in their new home in Manhattan. Under a federal program known as EB-5, they received green cards in exchange for their investment in a Miami real estate project. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

Leonardo DiCaprio Builds an Eco-Resort

(The New York Times) In what may be his highest-impact leading role yet, the actor Leonardo DiCaprio, the Oscar-nominated “Wolf of Wall Street,” is planning to heal an island.

A well-known environmental activist, Mr. DiCaprio bought Blackadore Caye, 104 acres of wild, unpopulated land off the coast of Belize, with a partner soon after he set foot in the country a decade ago. “It was like heaven on earth,” he said, speaking by telephone from Los Angeles. “And almost immediately, I found this opportunity to purchase an island there.”

Now Mr. DiCaprio has joined with Paul Scialla, the chief executive of Delos, a New York City-based developer, to create an eco-conscious resort there. When it opens to guests in 2018, “Blackadore Caye, a Restorative Island” will feature the trappings of many luxury resorts, with sprawling villas, infinity pools and stunning sunset views.

Benedict Kim for The New York Times


Funding Luxury Condos Is a Fast Track to a Green Card

The construction of 625 West 57th Street, a 709-unit rental building, is helping 400 Chinese investors obtain US green cards. (Brad Horrigan/WNYC)

The construction of 625 West 57th Street, a 709-unit rental building, is helping 400 Chinese investors obtain US green cards. (Brad Horrigan/WNYC)

What do the New York Wheel in Staten Island, the Brooklyn Navy Yard and a luxury condo in the Financial District have in common? Their construction was paid for in part by Chinese nationals.

Under a federal visa program known as EB-5, foreigners who invest half a million dollars on a project in the U.S. that creates at least ten jobs can jump to the head of the line for an application for a green card. More than 80 percent of the people vying for green cards through this program are Chinese.

The EB-5 visa program was created 25 years ago, but it wasn’t until banks stopped lending in the wake of the financial crisis, that it became popular. Real estate developers now use it to help finance many large projects in New York City, including portions of Hudson Yards, the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Pacific Park (the development formerly known as Atlantic Yards).

In Lower Manhattan, the Battery Maritime Building, where you catch the ferry to Governor’s Island, and Pier A, the historic 128-year-old building that was recently renovated, were funded in part with EB-5 financing. City Point, the mixed-use project in Downtown Brooklyn also uses EB-5 money. Other projects include: the International Gem Tower, an office building in Midtown;30 Park Place, a condominium and Four Seasons hotel development in the Financial District; a 709-unit rental that the Durst Organization is building at 625 West 57th Street and the Knickerbocker Hotel at 6 Times Square.

Despite its widespread use, analysts who have studied the EB-5 visa program say it lacks transparency. It is difficult to track whether the projects actually create as many jobs as they promise, and there have also been severalinstances of fraud.

But that hasn’t stopped its soaring popularity Because of demand from China, last year for the first time ever, the maximum number of EB-5 visas were reached. This year, the visa's are expected to be maxed out again, but even more quickly. In the meantime, the SEC and Homeland Security are paying more attention to EB-5 visas. And in September, parts of the program will be up for Congressional review.

Bon Appétit Moves to a New Home and Into the Kitchen You’ve Always Wanted

(The New York Times) The first thing Alison Roman does when she arrives at work is switch on the computer and check her email. But that’s where the similarities with many Manhattan office workers end.

After a few minutes at her desk, Ms. Roman clomps downstairs in her kitchen clogs and heads to her workstation. There, she puts on an apron, spreads her recipe on the white Calacatta marble countertop and begins slicing a tomato. Instead of asking colleagues where the stapler is, she searches for the microplane.

“We are obsessed with this,” she said, grabbing the rectangular metal tool and bowing her head over a lemon. “You can use it to zest, to shave Parmesan, you name it.”

Alison Roman, senior food editor at Bon Appétit, in the test kitchen on the 35th floor of 1 World Trade Center. Credit Pablo Enriquez for The New York Times

Alison Roman, senior food editor at Bon Appétit, in the test kitchen on the 35th floor of 1 World Trade Center. Credit Pablo Enriquez for The New York Times