After starting his hotel career in New York, George Cozonis vowed to return. However as he found career success in Miami, years went by and for anyone who dealt with this past winter in the Big Apple, one wouldn’t blame him for staying in the South Florida sunshine. As General Manager for the W South Beach the hotel boss was in charge one of the hottest hotels in the world. But as he puts it, “When a friend called and said The Plaza was looking for a Managing Director, it doesn’t get any more special than that. There’s only one Plaza, and there’s only one New York City. Forty million people a year visit the city each year, and they all want to see The Plaza. I knew if I was ever going to return to New York, this was it.”
Cozonis’ tenure, begun just over a year ago, comes as the iconic hotel hit the homestretch of a five-year renovation that “scaled it into a true luxury hotel.” The conversion to mixed use, including residences, brought the room count from over 800 to 282, of which 102 are suites.
The most visible part of the renovation was completed in January restoring the hotel’s French Renaissance chateau style façade. Ornamental terracotta was replaced and restored. The project was almost delayed as suppliers fell behind schedule on what was the highly artisan project of recreating detail typical for a 19th century palace, but uncommon in today’s world of concrete and glass towers.
Of course while the masses may pass by to take photographs, for elite travelers who venture inside, Cozonis says there are continuous upgrades. Star designer Alexandra Champalimaud, known for her work on The Bel-Air, The Dorchester and The Carlyle has been brought aboard to oversee refining 30 one-and-two bedroom suites to give them a more “residential and sophisticated feel,” the MD told me during a conversation in the popular Fitzgerald Suite, launched in conjunction with last year’s Gatsby movie. The Eloise Suite remains popular as well, although right now there are no more plans for specialty suites.
On the food and beverage side, complimenting Todd English who runs The Plaza Food Hall, Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian was brought on last year as the hotel’s Culinary Director. Cozonis says plans are underway to leverage his epicurean powerhouse with the latter working on new concepts for The Palm Court.
Interestingly, while one might see the profile of the guest at W South Beach and The Plaza as different as chalk and cheese, Cozonis says he sees many of his same clients from Miami. “New York was our biggest market (in Florida), and here I see them in the lobby coming for meetings or to dine or for drinks.” He notes that New York is a popular stopover for foreigners who may have business in other parts of the country, and some of the same guests who stayed with him at the W he is finding are fans of The Plaza. “I think you want to stay in a place that reflects where you are. In New York, that’s The Plaza,” he said.
Ownership of The Plaza today is controlled Indian conglomerate Sahara, which also owns London’s Grosvenor House, as well as a range of television stations, hospitals, retail shops selling products from “detergents to diamonds and a stake in India’s only Formula One racing team,” according to reports. Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal continues to hold a minority stake and the property is managed by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts.