BY MICHAEL LUONGO | Talk about bargains. Some of the most famous real estate in gay history recently sold at auction for only 40 percent of its original asking price, falling into the hands of real estate developer Ian Reisner, owner of the Out Hotel, the gay hotel complex on West 42nd Street in Hell’s Kitchen. Reisner made his purchase in conjunction with P.J. McAteer, owner of the Pines’ Sip & Twirl, Pines Bistro, and Pines Pizza.
Originally listed for $25 million dollars and won at $10.1 million, the lot has 320 feet of dock side frontage and represents nearly 80 percent of the commercial real estate space on Fire Island Pines. The property includes the fabled Pavilion nightclub, recently rebuilt after a fire, the High Tea deck, the Botel Hotel, the Rack Gym, the Pines Pool and Bar, the Blue Whale restaurant, Canteen, and the Cultured Elephant restaurant, along with several small shops, two homes, and a boat. The sale will officially close at the end of February.
Reisner is excited about potential synergies with his Manhattan property. Saying he has not decided on a new name for the hotel, he offered a variety of suggestions, including the Pines Hotel, the Out Post Pines, and “Pines In, a play on the Out Hotel.”
While the final name remains in the air, Reisner said he wants to make the new complex “a huge community experience,” where patrons and Fire Island residents can spend the day, with breakfast, brunch, and other activities. He added he is working with David Barton on a spa and gym for the complex with “everything from training with cute trainers, but we’d also have nutrition counseling and we would have spa treatments,” along with tailored health services to provide hormonal and vitamin recommendations for gym users.
Reisner has various models in mind for renovation and marketing, most notably Sunset Beach on Long Island’s Shelter Island, which is paired with the Standard Hotel in the Meatpacking District. One goal is to improve transportation between Manhattan and Fire Island through sea ferries and sea planes, as Sunset Beach does. This would streamline marketing to Europeans and other non-local visitors, Reisner said, speaking of packages of “three, five, seven days in America,” with varying day combinations split between the city and Fire Island.
Completion of the renovations is likely by April 2016, said Reisner, who envisions works similar to what he did with the Out Hotel, also originally a mid-century motel complex.
“We will do the exact same thing with the cinder block structure out there,” he said. “And recreate something really cool and contemporary in a cheap-chic kind of way.” Rather than “deck, deck, after deck,” as is seen throughout Fire Island, Reisner thinks touches will include bamboo plantings and open space, along with the more customary wooden decks; he pointed to the courtyards in the Out Hotel as models. Expanding on the Pines’ role as a vacationers’ resort, Reisner said he plans to expand the properties’ use during what are known in the travel industry as the shoulder seasons — the months surrounding the main summer season. In the case of Fire Island, the shoulder months are April and May, and September and October, when he hopes to promote corporate retreats and similar gatherings.
Reisner acknowledged that Fire Island has lost some of its flair, with gay travelers increasingly looking to other locations for vacations, especially since the Pavilion fire in late 2011. Calling the current time period a “rundownish kind of situation,” he explained, “I think the panache has been beaten up a little bit, but it can easily come back if somebody invests the time and the money and the passion into redoing it, which is exactly what I am doing.”
Fire Island’s troubles, Reisner said, have helped other regional resorts. Gays from New York, he said, “spend more time in Provincetown than they do in the Pines. And one is one hour away, the other is six hours away.”
Bob Howard, of Bob Howard Real Estate, one of the oldest real estate firms in the Pines, agreed that recent years have been difficult.
“The real estate market, in general to begin with, is a little on the flat side,” he said, adding that in the case of Fire Island, an added factor has been the “assimilation of gay life and gay culture. There are plenty of places in the world where gays can go where they might not have felt as comfortable before.”
Damage to the Fire Island beach in 2012’s Superstorm Sandy has also been a factor.
“As goes the oceanfront, so does the real estate market,” Howard said, while noting that most of the beach problems should be resolved in engineering projects due for completion in 2016. Howard pointed to one positive — no Pines homes were lost in the storm, though some did suffer water damage and have not been repaired.
Howard welcomes Reisner’s project.
“I think the plan is wonderful,” he said. “It will float the boat and result in rising real estate prices.”
Regardless of its current slump, Howard believes Fire Island remains a magical destination.
“You get out into one of the most lovely natural settings in the world in Pines Harbor, totally disconnected from the mainland,” after arriving by ferry, he said. “It’s this bizarro world where men are with men and women are with women and the straight people are in the minority,” something he said is unmatched by any other gay resort in the world.
In a press statement about the sale, former TV newsman Andrew Kirtzman, one of the previous owners, said, “In their six years as owners of the Pines commercial district, the owners of FIPV constructed an internationally-renowned Pavilion on the site of a devastating fire that left its predecessor in ashes. They also renovated the Blue Whale, opened Canteen restaurant, and refurbished the Botel pool deck into a huge and wildly popular new party venue. We congratulate Ian and P.J. and wish them a terrific future in the Pines. We’re excited to see them take the commercial district to a new level.”
Reisner recognizes that the Fire Island purchase is a challenge, but he said feels his experiences with the Out Hotel will help him get things right. For the West 42nd Street hotel, he said, 2014 was an excellent year, with 89 percent occupancy and a “50 percent gay/ 50 percent straight” mix of clientele. XL, the hotel’s nightclub, was a more difficult situation, he said, hastening to add that its problems have been overcome. Last month, he said, was the best January the club has ever had. XL’s current talent roster, with headliners such as Bianca del Rio, Reisner said, offers attractive opportunities for cross- promotion of events and entertainment in his two locations.
“The fits and starts are turning into good starts now,” Reisner said of what he has learned from developing the Out Hotel. The Fire Island Pines, he hopes, can build on those lessons.