Hilton Flexes its Muscle in Lower Manhattan

Downtown, FIDI (Financial District), Battery Park, Lower Manhattan. In this multinamed Wall Street-area enclave of angled cobble-stoned streets, where newbie restaurants and high-end retail shops jostle for space with multigenerational, family owned coffee shops and deli counters, Hilton has quietly managed to outmaneuver its competitors with two impressive -- and very different -- hotels.

This week I pulled off a coup with a hard-hat tour of the new 463 all-suite Conrad New York, which is set to open its doors in a few short weeks. The multimillion-dollar transformation of this former Embassy Suites is nothing short of striking. From the moment you enter the hotel's soaring atrium, you are swept up in its architectural design. If Wall Street executives are hankering for a good old boys retreat of dark wood paneling and overstuffed leather chairs, they will be sorely disappointed. This hotel marries clean, functional lines with a bold, contemporary look that demands attention. Meeting planners, beware. If you find yourself losing attendees, they can probably be found in the lobby gazing at the suspended art structures, or lounging on the rooftop terrace with its magnificent views of Lady Liberty and the harbor.

The Conrad New York, directly across from the Irish Hunger Memorial, features 32,000 square feet of meeting space on two floors (including two ballrooms), each with its own meetings concierge desk and dedicated staff. Most definitely a plus for planners, the hotel has inked a deal with famed New York City restaurateur Danny Meyer, of Union Square Events, to cater all of the food and beverage for its meetings and events. The hotel sits literally smack in this food maestro's playground, with easy access to two of Meyer's other eateries -- the American contemporary North End Grill, and the upscale barbeque joint, Blue Smoke. (Score those reservations now.) And when it comes to technology, expect cutting edge. "This place has so much cable laid, we could power a satellite," says Patrick Roy, director of sales and marketing.

Over at its sister property, the 569-room Millenium Hilton, which unveiled a major renovation last month, business travelers will find themselves with a front-row seat to the rebuilding of the World Trade Center area. In fact, the hotel's newly renovated Church & Dey restaurant, which overlooks the site directly, should consider selling tickets to view the rebuilding process. The hotel's redone lobby is an airy oasis of maple-colored woods, soft lightening and comfortable seating. And, with Wi-Fi now offered throughout the property, it's no wonder it's aptly named Liquid Assets bar was humming with financial executives hammering out last-minute deals on my late afternoon visit. But the hidden gem of this hotel has to be its indoor pool, a downright rarity amongst New York City hotels. This one even has floor-to-ceiling glass windows with views of the entire downtown area.

And here's another scoop: I learned that just last week executives from NYC & Co and many of the city's general managers gathered to address just how to market this impressive swath of Manhattan. I predict it will be an easy sell. By 2014, when the World Trade Center Memorial finally is complete, planners will be clamoring to secure space in Battery Park.