New buyer set to breathe life into New York landmark

The new owner of the historic Beaux-Arts building that once housed New York's Knickerbocker Hotel plans to restore the building to its former glory as a boutique hotel.

The Knickerbocker, reputed to be the birthplace of the Martini, was one of New York's most legendary properties during its short life between 1906 and 1921.

Enrico Caruso once sang from its balcony and Maxfield Parrish's 30-foot oil masterpiece Old King Cole once hung in its bar, where regulars such as John D. Rockefeller could stroll in and stagger out using the building's own subway entrance.

In 1921, Prohibition prompted the closure of the bar and its eventual conversion to an office building, which was to house Newsweek magazine for almost 20 years through the 1940s and 50s before being converted into residential lofts in the 80s.

Now, under Highgate Holdings, the building is set to undergo a conversion to a boutique hotel, complete with high-end retail outlets befitting its location in the heart of the Times Square district.

It's not the first time developers have had designs on the space - it was bought by Istithmar, an investment arm of the Dubai government in 2006, which promised to turn the building into a five-star hotel with 250 to 300 rooms.

However, following Dubai's near-meltdown last year, the keys for the building were handed back in March 2010 when Istithmar defaulted on its mortgage.

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