News From Tuesday Made Irrelevant Friday: A Famous Hotel in Sendai Which Once Hosted the Emperor Suddenly Closes

Man-made disasters take years. Natural disasters take hours. All this, which I translated a couple days ago, and the tsunami likely destroyed the building anyway.

I’m spending the week visiting my old friends and students in western Japan. I’m not sure what kind of writing schedule I’ll have there.

A Famous Hotel in Sendai Which Once Hosted the Emperor Suddenly Closes
Yomiuri Shimbun: 天皇陛下もご宿泊…仙台の名門ホテル突然閉館へ
Staff Report, March 8, 2011

Sendai Plaza Hotel President Aogi
Hotel President Aogi announces the closing of the hotel at a press conference.

Sendai Plaza Hotel
123-year old Hotel Sendai Plaza will close on the 25th. (Sendai City, Aoba-ku, Motomachi)

One of Sendai’s core hotels, Hotel Sendai Plaza in Aoba-ku, Motomachi, announced on the 7th that it will close its doors on the 25th.

The official explanation is that trouble with the landlord has left the hotel without operating capital, but the changing face of the hotel business in Sendai is in the background. Since the 123 year-old inn has about 400 standing reservations, the announcement that it will close just half a month from now makes for a most unusual curtain fall.

At the press conference, Company President Masatoshi Aogi (64) said that the entire staff of about 200, which includes part time workers, will be laid off. There are about 400 reservations for the reception hall, some made as much as two years in advance. He has been explaining circumstances to customers, but those who have already send invitation cards are reportedly enraged.

President Aogi said that in March 2007, the hotel sold its land and building to the insurance giant Tokyo Marine Holdings, Inc.’s Special Purpose Company (SPC) and signed a rental agreement. The hotel and Tokyo Marine Holdings had agreed to replace the aged building, but after suffering from the financial crisis, Tokyo Marine Holdings scrapped the plan in November 2008. Since the hotel had already closed its reception hall and other facilities in preparation for the rebuilding, it lost 240 million yen in potential revenue on the year.

After that, the hotel stopped paying its rent on account of these losses, but the SPC resisted attempts to terminate the contract. At the beginning of this month, the SPC froze the hotel’s bank account, forcing it out of business.

In recent years, the replacement of old hotels with new ones has accelerated in Sendai. In the five years since 2004, the number of hotels in the city has risen 17% to 89. In 2010, the foreign franchise Westin Hotels opened an affiliate in the city, and the rush of new entries is advancing. Two years ago, the increase in supply drove the long-established Sendai Excel Hotel Tokyu out of business. The Plaza has been in the red since 2009. Its annual revenue had fallen from a peak of 3.3 billion yen in 1993 to just 1.5 billion yen last year.

President Aogi said, “I sincerely apologize to our customers. The contract we signed with Tokyo Marine Holdings was a failure.” Tokyo Marine Holdings said it has not yet decided what to do with the land and building.

The Sendai Plaza Hotel opened in 1888 (Meiji 21) as the Michi-no-oku Hotel. The Imperial Family and many other great names have stayed there. There are 16 stories, two basement levels, and 177 rooms. The reception hall can hold 2000 people.

Original/原稿:

天皇陛下もご宿泊…仙台の名門ホテル突然閉館へ

記者会見で閉館を発表する青木社長

25日に営業を終了するホテル仙台プラザ(仙台市青葉区本町で)

仙台市の中核ホテルの一つ「ホテル仙台プラザ」(青葉区本町)は7日、今月25日で営業を終了し、閉館すると発表した。

家主とのトラブルで運転資金がまかなえなくなったと説明しているが、背景には仙台でのホテル間競争の激化もある。創業123年の老舗が400件もの予約を抱えたまま、発表からわずか半月余りで閉館するという異例の幕引きとなった。

記者会見した青木昌敏社長(64)によると、アルバイトを含む従業員約200人は全員解雇する。宴会場の予約は2年先まで約400件ある。予約客に事情を説明しているが、すでに案内状を出した客もおり、憤りの声が上がっているという。

青木社長の説明では、同ホテルは2007年3月、土地と建物を保険大手、東京海上ホールディングス(HD)系の特別目的会社(SPC、東京)に売却し、施設の賃貸契約を結んだ。東京海上側と協力して老朽化した施設を建て替える計画だったが、リーマンショックの影響で08年11月、東京海上側が計画を撤回。ホテルは建て替えを見込んで宴会客などを断っていたため、年間2億4000万円の減収を被ったという。

その後、ホテル側は損失を理由に賃料の支払いを停止、SPCが契約解除を通告するなど対立が続いた。SPCが今月初め、ホテルの預金口座など資産を差し押さえたため、閉館に追い込まれた。

仙台では近年、ホテルの新旧交代が加速している。ホテル数は04年からの5年間で17%増えて89軒になった。10年には外資系のウェスティンホテル仙台も開業し、進出ラッシュが続く。一方、需要はそれほど増えず、一昨年から老舗の仙台ホテルと大手の仙台エクセルホテル東急が相次いで閉館した。プラザも09年から赤字が続き、売上高もピーク時の93年の33億円から昨年は15億円にまで落ちた。

青木社長は「お客様に申し訳ない。東京海上側との契約は結果として失敗だった」と陳謝した。東京海上HDは「今後の土地や建物の運用方法は未定」としている。

◆ホテル仙台プラザ=1888年(明治21年)に創業した「陸奥ホテル」が起源。天皇陛下を始め皇族の利用も多い名門。地上16階地下2階、177室。2000人収容の宴会場を持つ。

(2011年3月8日10時38分 読売新聞)

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