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LGBT Advocates Fight Plan To Sell Plaza, Dream Downtown Hotels To Sultan Of Brunei

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A call has been launched for people to boycott the famed Plaza Hotel at Grand Army Plaza and the Dream Downtown Hotel in Chelsea – if they are sold to a certain owner.

As CBS 2's Emily Smith reported, the deal could be made next month with the Sultan of Brunei, who has been criticized for his support for strict Sharia Law in his country.

The Plaza Hotel, 768 Fifth Ave. across from Central Park, is one of the most prominent destinations in the world. The hotel has played host to rich, famous and even royal guests for more than a century – including the Beatles, CBS News' Ben Tracy reported.

It has also served as the setting the setting for classic movies such as "The Way We Were," "Scent of a Woman," and "Home Alone 2." Donald Trump, who once owned the landmark, called it the "Mona Lisa of hotels," Tracy reported.

While the Plaza Hotel dates back to 1907, the Dream Downtown Hotel is new – having opened in 2011 in a building that once served as a halfway house. But it has gained notoriety for its pool deck, nightlife and dining scenes, and celebrity guests.

But now, both hotels have stirred controversy with the potential sale.

"I wouldn't want to stay somewhere where you know the owners connected to oppressing people somewhere," one passerby said.

The issue surfaced earlier this summer when some Hollywood stars boycotted the Beverly Hills Hotel just outside Los Angeles, which is already owned by the sultan. Their reason is that he could soon impose strict Islamic Sharia laws in his oil-rich country on the island of Borneo – including punishing same-sex relationships with amputations, flogging stoning.

The nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization has now called on New Yorkers to take their business elsewhere if the hotel is sold to the sultan.
"We have an obligation to do everything we can to ensure that one of the world's most iconic hotels doesn't end up as another jewel in the sultan's crown," Jason Rahlan, communications director at the Human Rights Campaign, told CBS News.

The Beverly Hills Hotel lost $2 million and 20 events in a month due to the protests and boycotts, according to hotel analysts. Two analysts who spoke to CBS 2 believe similar protests will happen in New York, but likely will not have a major effect on revenue like in California.

"That particular hotel has very nice banquet facilities, so all those groups stopped coming. You can't replace them," said Phillip Alfus, president of the Alfus Group consulting firm.

The Plaza, by contrast, caters to individual tourists.

If the deal goes through, it is said to be a $2 billion acquisition that would also include the Grosvenor Houe hotel in London. The sultan himself is reportedly worth $20 billion.

Hotel analysts said if there is a loss of business in New York City, it would not hurt the sultan's wealth much. But it would affect those who manage and work in the hotel industry.

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