How the dancer, director and space-maker Prince A. Sanders made his way from the stage to the foyer of NYC’s legacy hotel, Park Lane New York.
On an unexpectedly warm winter day in New York City, I find myself just steps from bustling 5th Avenue, where fashion’s brightest brands are on display. I am headed into the legacy hotel, Park Lane New York, set on Billionaires Row and looming high above Central Park.
Inside, Prince A. Sanders greets me with the warmth of a familiar friend. He dons a sleek, jewel-toned fit that is only exceeded by his bright smile and air of confidence. His Cartier bracelet, a gift from his mother, glimmers under the ambient lighting while his perfectly coiffed attire has me straightening my own posture. Prince has an effect that inspires those around him to be their best.
I can’t help but wonder—where did this energy come from?
IT’S A NEW YORK STATE OF MIND
The dancer, author, director and space-maker was always destined to be in entertainment. But even he didn’t know that his evolution would take him from the stage to the foyer of the world’s most luxurious hotels. Prince was once the only African American General Manager of a Forbes 5-star/AAA five-diamond hotel accompanied by a 5-star/AAA five-diamond, 2 Michelin star restaurant, and has been aptly named the “Prince of the City” by Forbes for his managing success at the Ritz-Carlton, EDITION Hotels, Trump International, and most recently, Park Lane New York. His presence sets the vibe here at the hotel, and I am drinking it in like the bon vivant I am when visiting the city. As we walk through the hotel’s glamorous spaces, he unravels the story that got him here.
Born and raised in New York by a single mother, Prince was exposed to Broadway shows, Kabuki theater, and ballet.
“My mother said you don’t have to love something, but you have to experience it to know if you care for it or not,” he shares.
He accredits her for the reason he discovered his first love, ballet. As a young professional dancer, Prince had the drive to be the best. He gushes about working for his dream company, where he trained rigorously, then remembers the heartbreak of being let go. That fueled his drive to land an opportunity with the renowned Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. For four years, Prince traveled the globe with the company while his family applauded him from home.
An unfortunate injury caused him to step away from dancing at age 22, requiring him to pivot not just his passion but his identity.
“I can tell you that I’ve danced in St. Petersburg, Russia and at the Metropolitan Opera in NYC, but I had no resume or credentials to get a job at the local mall,” he shares.
Humbled and hustling, Prince finally did land a hotel gig in which he worked his way through the ranks with enthusiastic ambition.
“I attended life’s Masterclass,” he says.
His roles spanned the front desk to housekeeping to then getting recognized by management for his dedication and generous spirit.
“I consider hospitality a very forgiving industry because it accepted someone like me that was so lost and delivered to me a community that offered so much learning and people who were willing to teach,” expresses Prince.
He went on to help open five W Hotel properties and began training other employees on the company’s culture, service and orientations. With a little encouragement from a colleague, he became a certified speaker for the Ritz-Carlton learning center within their prestigious training and development program. Prince managed front-of-the-house operations while conducting on and off-property training for nearly seven years, helping improve employees’ service performance and upholding their hospitality standards.
When EDITION Hotels reached out to him to help create a luxury lifestyle experience for their hotel chain, he enthusiastically accepted. Prince opened the first three EDITION Hotels in Waikiki, Istanbul and London. While there, he prioritized breaking the barriers of traditional hotel service to have a more emotional engagement with guests. His ability to encourage those around him was heightened by his ability to host, entertain and curate memorable experiences for hotel guests around the world.
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During the Celebrity Apprentice craze, Prince was asked to join the Trump International team, where he worked for the family business and their high-profile residents and visitors. Here, he discovered a more personal experience of hospitality where work felt like home. He helped select the European marble and stones, finishes, fabrics and wall coverings for the decadent hotel. With an eye for color and aesthetics, he “was living his HGTV fantasy.”
PRINCE’S RENDEZVOUS RIGHT TO PARK LANE
In 2019, with an impressive portfolio of management under his belt, Prince stepped into his most recent role as Managing Director at Park Lane New York, just in time for their massive $85 million-dollar renovation.
Opened in 1971 on Billionaire’s Row, Park Lane was a premier property sharing a street with other ultra-luxury residences and hotels. Over time and after a scandal or two, the property became more known for its low rates and high occupancy. Prince felt the personalized care one would expect from a Central Park adjacent hotel was missing. With the desire to transition out of transactional hospitality and into experiential, the restoration would emphasize glamor and accessible luxury that would welcome a whole new audience.
“I knew that win or lose, if it wasn’t successful, it would fall on my leadership. But you know what? No risk, no reward. We ended up creating something very unique and so needed in hospitality on Billionaires Row,” Prince says. “The transformation began with identity.”
At any given moment, young couples, families, executives, artists and corporate accounts in fashion, beauty, finance and entertainment can be seen walking through the front doors. Enlisting the world-renowned designers Yabu Pushelberg to drive the visual concept of the 47-story hotel and its 610 guest rooms, “they used Central Park as the inspiration to create a whimsical setting that allows travelers to continue enjoying the magic of the park as they travel throughout the property,” Prince says.
Visitors will be charmed by the floor-to-ceiling murals in the lobby inspired by Igor Stravinsky’s ballet, The Firebird, a theme that extends into the rooms. Prince had the artwork animated to be displayed on the room TVs while the sounds of songbirds reflect the wildlife of Central Park. Architectural furnishings, celestial wall coverings and abstract imagery of nature scapes dazzle the eyes while female-dominant artwork punctuates every room, balancing earth tones and femininity. Other notable design features include structural pendant lighting, oblong mirrors, ornate black-and-white tiled bathrooms and dusty-rose velvet armchairs. Hints of the hotel’s past can be seen in the glittering chandeliers, 1920s light fixtures and original stonework stamped throughout. The warm and wondrous details inside are matched only by the expansive ceiling-height windows that frame the park beyond.
A PLACE TO BE SEEN
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“I want people to walk in here and see representations of themselves and to feel the great appreciation we have for the travelers that come and stay with us,” he shares.
In the past, Prince has felt like he was good enough to serve but not be served. Now, he wants people to know that “everyone is welcome here, from staff to guests.” As he interacts with his team, he often remembers the hurt he felt once upon a time l when he couldn’t find a job.
“There is no job I will ask them to do that I won’t do myself. We truly are all in this together,” he says.
Referencing Forbes Travel Guide’s Star Rating standards, Prince has found a way to incorporate the genuine pride New Yorkers embody into its service practices that are implemented by a staff “as diverse as the city is.” The excitement and pride of the people that work here, especially those individuals who have seen the property’s rebirth, was our favorite souvenir.
Park Lane has created a place where the five senses are stimulated. Curated with global culture in mind, you will hear everything from Afro beats to jazz and pop. Your appetite will take you to the surprise menu items at Harry’s New York Bar that have featured ancestral dishes from the team at Ghetto Gastro. Prince’s own grandmother’s recipes have made it onto specialty menus…collard greens and buttermilk fried chicken, anyone? Don’t miss a stopover at Rose Lane, a Parisian art nouveau-inspired bar, or spend a cozy, intimate evening in-room where caviar can be ordered via their hotline.
“I want to show others like me that are struggling to see where they belong, that we exist here,” he says. “As long as I am a part of Park Lane, this will be the most important part of the hotel. To share the message that I, too, could be a guest here.”
Floral and dark-hued wallpaper lit by a pink chandelier leads us up to the hotel’s crown jewel for drinks at Darling. The rooftop restaurant has been designed with your fabulous great-aunt in mind, decadent and a little eccentric. With panoramic views of Manhattan, we toast to what once was, with curiosity about what is still to come.
Favorite fashion designer? Wales Bonner
Favorite interior designer? Yabu Pushelberg
Favorite season in NYC? Fall
Favorite store on 5th Avenue? Bergdorf Goodman
Favorite Central Park eatery? Iris
Favorite NYC spot to grab a drink? 67 Orange Street
Favorite way to spend your day off? Spending time in my Rose Garden and enjoying my koi pond.
Favorite jazz club in the city? Blue Note
Favorite ballet? Romeo & Juliet
Favorite bakery? She Wolf Bakery
Favorite Broadway show? The Wiz