April 3, 2008 -- The name Bellevue has long had instant recognition. It's virtually synonymous with crazy — the locked up kind of crazy.
Nevertheless, New York's development agency is looking at the former psychiatric hospital as the perfect target for a makeover into a luxury hotel.
And maybe it's not so crazy.
"It's a very historical building," said Janel Patterson of the city's Economic and Development Commission.
Built in 1931, its Italian Renaissance style features lots of architectural detail and has made it an icon of Manhattan's East Side. The building overlooks the East River, and is adjacent to the East River Science Park, which will house life science and biotechnology research when it opens in 2009.
"There are no other facilities in the area that cater to that client," Patterson explained.
For decades, Bellevue Hospital was the place where the city's insane, usually the criminally insane, were hustled off to by the cops. Among its more famous patients were writer Norman Mailer, Andy Warhol muse Edie Sedgwick, and John Lennon's assassin, Mark David Chapman.
It was phased out as a psychiatric hospital in 1984, and in 1998 became one of the city's largest homeless shelters. Plans are already in the works to move the shelter to another location, and Bellevue should be ready for its makeover by mid-2009.
The building needs the work. Much of its signature moldings and other architectural details are badly deteriorated.
Infamy notwithstanding, there are advantages to creating Hotel Bellevue.
"We think the layout lends itself to a hotel facility," Patterson said, describing its H shape, long corridors and small-ish rooms that mimic common hotel blueprints.
Plus, if location is as important as the old saying goes, Bellevue's riverside address on First Avenue between 29th and 30th streets is prime Manhattan real estate, especially with the coming of the East River Science Park.
The plan is to outfit the hotel with a convention center, conference rooms and other amenities to cater to the scientific industry planning to move in there.
Patterson had no comment on how the building's notoriety might excite or repel prospective hotel guests, but one thing's for sure: there will be no mistaking this for Bellevue.
In its search for developers, the EDC is clear that it wants to preserve the architectural integrity of the building, "restoring the façade with complementary new design where appropriate," according to a statement.
The EDC hopes to have a developer locked in by the end of the year.