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The InterView: Ian Schrager

WHERE YOU KNOW HIM FROM: Schrager was the co-founder of New York City’s Studio 54 nightclub, and he famously created the modern concept of the boutique hotel. In recent years, he has partnered with Marriott on the EDITION brand of hotels and luxury residences, including the forthcoming Tampa EDITION. Part of the Water Street Tampa development, this will be Tampa’s first five-star hotel and will include 37 condos on the building’s top floors.

I COME FROM NEW YORK CITY. Born and raised. Born in the Bronx, raised in Brooklyn. I have all the qualities of the quintessential New York City person.

[WHEN I GREW UP] I WANTED TO DO SOMETHING. I wanted to accomplish something. I wanted to have an impact. I wanted to dent the universe. I was always very ambitious, but I went through [the] normal phases of wanting to be a cowboy. I wanted to be a fireman, a policeman. But at the end of the day, we usually find ourselves and our calling by accident.

Rendering of the Tampa EDITION pool deck

STUDIO 54 HAPPENED BECAUSE THERE WAS A CONVERGENCE OF A LOT OF THINGS GOING ON IN THE WORLD AT THE TIME. [They] all converged to give Steve [Rubell, the Studio 54 co-founder] and I the perfect opportunity and perfect platform to do Studio. … There were a lot of social factors going on. New York City was on the verge of bankruptcy. When something like that happens, people normally seek escape, like they did during the Depression. There was political trouble in Europe at that time, so it seemed that Europe kind of turned over, and everybody that wasn’t attached [to] their roots rolled into New York City. [The] same thing happened in this country. Everybody in L.A. kind of rolled into New York. So in the ‘70s, it was New York City’s time. It was their moment. It was also the emergence of the gay population, which set the cultural tone in the city. The city, at that time, wasn’t only inhabited by hedge fund people and rich people. It was very bohemian. Nobody had a lot to lose. It was a real era of creativity. New York City was just bustling with excitement, and anything was possible. Nightlife was thriving. It was also when the baby boomer generation got out of college and came into fruition and started to go out at night. So it was like the perfect storm of conditions. It was perfect for somebody that was willing to break the rules, do something that hadn’t been done before and try to allow people to experience the perfect freedom that you feel when you feel you’re protected and in a special place [like Studio 54]. 

BEING IN THE NIGHTCLUB BUSINESS IS A YOUNG PERSON’S BUSINESS. It’s kind of undisciplined. It cuts across a lot of different creative disciplines. But at its very heart, it’s a hospitality business. You are looking after someone. You’re trying to make sure they have a good time, have fun. And when they leave, they leave satisfied, which is the very same goal of a hotel and the very same goal of a residential project. So they just seem, to me, the logical extension — from the nightclub business, to the hotel business, and then to residential business. It’s all with the same goal in mind: looking after people.

I THINK TAMPA IS ON THE VERGE OF BEING A VERY VISIBLE, MORE RECOGNIZED GATEWAY CITY TO ALL OF SOUTHERN FLORIDA. It’s a city where the quality of life is great, and people love it, and I think it’s coming into its own now. It’s only going to get bigger and bigger and bigger so that it’ll be right up there on par with Orlando and Miami and maybe even surpass that. The quality of life. It is a real city. It has a real business center, but it’s still tropical. Not tropical in terms of being in a tropical environment, which is a little bit more south. But you’re in the sun. You’re by the water. You have to try and capture that in a particular hotel. It was just fun to be a part of this project, which to me is like a public works [project], which is going to move the center of Tampa because the scale of the project is so big. There are three projects like this going on in the country now, and you’re going to be seeing more and more of them. One happened in L.A. when they built the sports facility, L.A. Live. But the developers of that project weren’t as smart as the developers of [Water Street] Tampa because they bought up all the land. The developers in L.A. didn’t. So everybody else went in there and bought the land. Now you’re seeing, after many, many false starts, the emergence of the Downtown L.A. area. It’s a new area for L.A. In Detroit, Dan Gilbert is also doing a huge project that will kind of reinvent the Detroit area because of the scale of the project. And the third one is our own Tampa project. They are like public works. I don’t call them urban renewal. I call them urban expansion. They change a city. They move the center. They impact the traffic flow. They impact the way people live. It’s just exciting to be involved with something like that.

MY IDEA OF LUXURY IS KIND OF DIFFERENT THAN MOST PEOPLE’S. Luxury, to me, is not a static definition. It shouldn’t depend upon how rich you are, what brand [of] clothes you wear or what car you drive. Luxury has to do with humanity. It has to be making you feel good, treating you with dignity and looking after you the way your friends and family do. Making you feel comfortable and free. Free of distraction. Free of hassle. Every transaction that happens is absolutely frictionless. It’s just a pleasure to be there. So to me, the ultimate luxury is how it makes you feel, and do you have the freedom of time Because most of the things that we see right now, the technology, for instance, doesn’t give us more time. It takes time away from us. It makes us more harried. Therefore I think luxury now is democratized. It’s egalitarian. It’s for everyone, if you get it. It’s a genuine, authentic luxury. That’s what luxury means to me because you can have the same definition of luxury [that] our parents and our grandparents and our great-grandparents [had] many, many years ago. It changes, it evolves, like everything else in life does. So we’re meaning to capture those things that are really important to people that make them feel at home and comfortable and free to enjoy themselves. That’s what we’re trying to capture in the EDITION and in the residences.

Rendering of the Tampa EDITION lobby bar at nighttime.

LIVING IN A RESIDENCE THAT’S ATTACHED TO A HOTEL, EITHER ON TOP OF IT OR ON THE SIDE OF IT, IS THE BEST WAY OF LIFE POSSIBLE. You have all the benefits of ownership. You have none of the hassles, and you don’t have a loss of privacy. Everything is tailored to your individual needs. All the services of the hotel are available to you. So it’s just effortless living. It’s just the perfect situation. If you want to have somebody clean your apartment, you don’t have to give up privacy by having them there all day long. You could have them there for two hours if you want. You could have room service, and you don’t have to make your meals. You can have your parties planned by [the hotel staff]. You can have housekeeping. It’s just the best way to live — a modern way to live. I think the distinction between hotels, residences and offices are blurring. They’re all getting more and more like each other. So I think the opportunity to live in a residence attached to a hotel is just an unbelievable, unique opportunity, and I think we’ll be seeing [many] more of them. In terms of the way our residences work, they’re sophisticated. They appeal to a person who’s in the know and understands what we’re trying to do. They’re bespoke. Each detail has been thought about. They’re homes in the sky with all the benefits of a hotel without all the detriments or liabilities of the hotel. So to me, it’s the perfect place to live, and I think it’s a modern way of living.

[THEY HAVE A] SOPHISTICATED DESIGN AND DETAILS.There isn’t a detail in the apartment — whether it’s the stitching on a pillow, the paint color, the plants, the kitchen utensils [I could say is my favorite]. Somebody could go into that apartment and all they have to do is bring a toothbrush. You know, it’s the kind of the envelope that we created there that is consistent with anybody’s lifestyle: simple, modern, baroque, decorative. It all works in the space. Everything fits because it’s a perfect canvas. The people who are living there, their personality can come out. In the hotel, that’s not the case. In the hotel, my personality comes out. In the apartments, their personality has to come out.

[TAMPA] IS AN EMERGING CITY ABOUT TO EXPLODE. It’s happening. It’s coming. We happen to be there at the right time and in the right project. It’s so funny. I don’t think winning the Super Bowl is by happenstance. I think that’s all part of the high tide coming in and the city improving in every way. The food scene, everything. I just think it’s going to happen for Tampa now.

IT’S SO HARD TO SAY [WHAT MY FAVORITE MEAL AT A PROPERTY OF MINE IS]. It’s like somebody asking me what’s my favorite property. They’re all my children. I love them all the same. You know, it’s so funny, because I used to open up a restaurant and I was mostly concerned about the scene —?the buzz in the room. The waiters and waitresses we hired didn’t even have much experience. The food was OK, but it wasn’t something really special. Then I had a restaurant with Jean-Georges [Vongerichten], a celebrated chef in New York, and I was so proud to be associated [with it] because the food was great. It was just exhilarating. It’s not only the décor or the people who come, but the food is great. So I can’t do a restaurant now that doesn’t have great food. We have a real talent coming to Tampa to do something very special. John Fraser [a New York City-based chef and restaurateur], he is a real talent. Tampa’s going to get a restaurant that is healthy and Mediterranean-inspired, but delicious. We’re happy about that.

I LIKE DISNEY WORLD. There were two people who I admire very, very much. One is Steve Jobs. The other one is Walt Disney. I don’t go on the rides. First of all, I have five kids, so I’m a long-running visitor to Disney World. And I have a 10-year-old son, so I think that’s going to continue in the future. But the magic that Disney has — everything kind of comes together. Even though whatever [resources] Disney had is available for everybody else, they just put it together in a way that makes magic and resonates with people. The same thing with Steve Jobs. The phones, the iPads — [the technology] was all available. He just does it in a way that makes it special. Those two people are inspirations for me. So if I were to pick a [favorite] place versus a city, I would say the place would be Disney World, and the city — not including Tampa, of course — would probably be Paris, Rome or Milan.

I AM VERY CURIOUS, INCURABLY CURIOUS, AND I THINK OBSERVING THE PEOPLE ON THE STREET CAN TELL YOU ALMOST INSTANTLY WHAT [A] CITY IS LIKE. The DNA of the city, the ethos. All my ideas come from the street, from people. I think just going for a walk and seeing the people and the way they act and interact with each other is something that’s very important to me, and it gets you right inside the city very quickly. When I have time, taking a bike ride around the city, that also informs me about the city. You’re in a city like New York, when the light is just about to turn green — it’s not even green yet —?you get a honk from the car behind you. You don’t get that in Tampa. Those little nuances tell you about a city. The lifestyle is better [in Tampa]. People aren’t there on the edge. They’re enjoying themselves. They’re in a good place that doesn’t have the intensity and the hostility New York has, which I think puts people right up on the edge. Tampa is in the sun, but it is a real city. It’s not just a vacation place. It’s a real city, but I think that makes it exciting. It gives you a lot of possibilities to kind of have both.

Rendering of the Tampa EDITION hotel lobby at daytime.

I WISH THAT PEOPLE WOULD TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ALL THE THINGS THAT HOTELS CAN OFFER A PERSON BECAUSE I THINK THEY MAKE A LOT OF EFFORT ON A LOT OF DIFFERENT FRONTS, AND IT JUST GETS GLOSSED OVER BY THE GUEST. A hotel should be more than just a place to sleep. A hotel should be a microcosm of the best that the city that the hotel is located in has to offer. I think hotels have historically manifested the popular culture of the city they were in. You should be able to go to a hotel and get a feeling for what that city is by never having to even leave the hotel. AndI wish people would give it a second to understand that. It’s not the same hotel in Boston and L.A. and Tampa. They’re all different because they’re all in different cities, and they’re all coming out at different times. I just think people should come in expecting that kind of customized, bespoke thing that I think hotels now are trying to do.

[MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT] IS EASY —?MY CHILDREN. So easy. I’ve been through, I’ve been there and done everything. But I have to say that I’m at a point in my life where the joy of my family and the joy I get from the work I do, I’m just so lucky because I love them both. I’m probably the richest guy in the world. There are other rich ones, too, obviously. But I have everything that I need in my family and the fact that I love my work and how I spend my time. My greatest accomplishment, far and away, is my kids.

I STILL WANT TO DO MY MASTERPIECE. I may never do it, but I’ll die trying. I still want to make a hotel as perfect as it can possibly be. But I want to do something — I hope it doesn’t sound presumptuous to say, my masterpiece. Sometimes somebody could do something so special that it can’t be copied by other people. Only that person could do it. Walt Disney is a good example of that. Those animation techniques were available to everybody, but he just kind of [did] it in a way people couldn’t copy. That, to me, is the ideal.

I’M VERY SHY. I can talk about my work in front of a million, a billion people, no problem. But I go to a cocktail party, I grab my wife’s hand and gravitate towards [the corner]. I guess making small talk isn’t really of interest to me. And, you know, I’m just a shy person. People don’t understand it with the work that I do. [They] don’t understand it within the nightclub business. But it’s funny, taking the bows with a successful project, being back-slapped by everybody, it’s not the part that I enjoy about the whole process. The part that I enjoy is when people come in [looks around, eyes widen] and you can tell in their eyes [that they’re thinking], wow. That’s the part I enjoy.

I GUESS [MY GREATEST EXTRAVAGANCE] WOULD BE EITHER BUYING GIFTS FROM MY FAMILY — my wife always yells at me because I do indulge them at times — [or] I think buying art. I’m not a very material or possession[-focused] person. Fancy clothes, fancy cars, it really doesn’t interest me very much. I do live in nice homes. So maybe that’s an extravagance for me.

[IF I COULD HAVE A QUALITY I DON’T CURRENTLY POSSESS, it would be] more outgoing so that I actually enjoyed more some of the success I’ve been lucky enough to have.

ON MY PERFECT DAY, I’D GET UP EARLY. I’m an early riser, I get up at about 6, 6:30. Sometimes even earlier. I’d have breakfast with my family and then go into work and deal with a lot of creative issues, also with the business issues that comes with the territory. Get home by five o’clock if I can, by six o’clock if I can, and have dinner with my family. Then after that, flake out. Zero molecular movement. That’s my perfect day. That is a gift from the heavens.

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