DJ's Hip-Hop Hotel Offers Economic Hope for Sunset Park

By Alan Neuhauser on June 5, 2012 6:59am 

Bijal Panwala stands in front of Hotel BPM, which is scheduled to open Aug. 1.
Bijal Panwala stands in front of Hotel BPM, which is scheduled to open Aug. 1.
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DNAinfo/Alan Neuhauser

SUNSET PARK — If there's any doubt about the gentrification of Sunset Park, a block of 33rd Street between Third and Fourth avenues gives clear confirmation.

There, nestled between a flophouse, an auto parts garage and the Gowanus Expressway, stands Hotel BPM, a high-end, music-themed, DJ-owned boutique hotel scheduled to open Aug. 1.

"It's urban living at its finest," general manager Paul Ruffino said.

The six-floor, 76-room hotel that's wrapped in black and neon-green, is owned by Bijal Panwala, a globetrotting DJ who said he "fell in love" with Brooklyn as a student at Long Island University.

"I was looking for what is my next step in my career," Panwala said during an interview in the hotel's basement bar.

"From traveling so much, I was familiar with hospitality. I just wanted to build a hotel that identified all my issues as a traveler, a place that I would want to stay at and relates to who I am."

He built a hotel that he says celebrates music and entertainment, and which he hopes will attract partygoers from around the world.

"We're not a hotel that just has little add-ons," Panwala said. “We didn’t just hang Rolling Stone covers on the wall. We have music flowing through the hotel."

Every room and bathroom is outfitted with Bose speakers, which pipe-in music from the hotel's music server. A volume dial is mounted on a wall in each unit, next to the light switches.

Guests, when they make a reservation, are asked to supply their favorite songs or artists, and the music is then added to that week's hotel-wide playlist.

The rooms, meanwhile, feature cushy Frette linens, Keurig coffee makers and top-of-the-line Glichrist and Soames BeeKind soaps. Compared to luxury leaders like the Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons, Ruffino said, "You would not even see a difference in the rooms until you look out the windows."

And therein lies the challenge. Hotel BPM, which stands for "beats per minute," is the first luxury property in recent memory to be built in Sunset Park, a neighborhood that has stagnated in the economic doldrums for decades.

The hotel stands out from its surroundings, which include an auto-parts garage, a flophouse and the Gowanus Expressway.
The hotel stands out from its surroundings, which include an auto-parts garage, a flophouse and the Gowanus Expressway.
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DNAinfo/Alan Neuhauser

Its main commercial thoroughfares on Fourth and Fifth avenues are almost exclusively lined with bodegas, barbershops, cut-rate clothing stores, storefront churches and the occasional martial arts studio.

"Luxury hotels in working class neighborhoods are a risk for sure," Arturs Kalnins, associate professor at Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration, said in an email.

"If successful, they can pull up the whole community (typically multiple high-end properties help in this regard). But managers and owners have to be willing to get in the thick of local development politics, attract new business, high-end restaurants. It requires a lot of tenacity and commitment, otherwise, the area will drag down the property."

Ruffino and Panwala said they have already engaged local businesses.

"We're talking to everyone around here about developing our service," Ruffino said. "Chicken from the Dominican place over there, it'll be on our menu. We found out there's a day care center across the street, we're going to list babysitters from there."

The hotel has also focused on hiring from the neighborhood, as well as local military veterans.

"We're looking primarily from 27th to 45th Streets, and Seventh Avenue to Second Avenue," said Ruffino.

"I'm even taking less experienced people that have the ability to learn."

Nearby business owners and employees did express hope that the hotel will provide an economic boost.

"Anything will help — business is not stable," said Rony Hay, who has owned Super Supreme Deli at the corner of Fourth Avenue and 34th Street for seven years.

"Everyone tries to save money. You keep hoping."

Leslie Delacruz, 26, a waitress at La Familia Grill on Fourth Avenue near 32nd Street, said she expects the hotel will bring "more tourists, people in general."

Nevertheless, other local residents and workers expressed concern that the hotel could cause rent inflation.

"Sure, it can drive business to local businesses, but developers are going to come in and jack up the rent prices," said Tahadji Gibbs, 29, who works at a shipping and receiving company on Third Avenue.

The executive directors of two business improvement districts on Fifth Avenue, however, voiced strong support for Hotel BPM.

"I think it can only be good for Brooklyn," said Irene LeRoi, who heads the Park Slope Fifth Avenue BID.

"Brooklyn has become hot. I don't think there's hardly any undesirable places to be anymore. What happens is that mom and dad, from Ohio, and their kid come here to New York, they take up rooms in hotels, they fill seats in our restaurants. I think they're a good thing."

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