During his 25 years in New York City, Sam Chang has become one of the most prolific hotel builders in the five boroughs. By his own count, Chang has opened at least 70 hotels since the late 1990s, The Wall Street Journal reported.
He told the paper in December of 2019 that he planned to retire from the hotel business in order to focus on his childhood hobby: pigeon racing. At the time, he blamed the zoning change that required a special permit approval to build hotels in industrial zones. “They are pretty much putting me out of business,” he told the Journal. “That rezoning put me in my retirement.”
As of early 2021, the city was moving forward with a similar change that would require the same kind of permit—which requires a public land-use process and City Council approval—to build a hotel anywhere. It came in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which decimated tourism and devastated the city’s hospitality industry, forcing dozens of hotels to close their doors.
Chang, meanwhile, sold off properties. His McSam Hotel Group sold a 531-key hotel at 140 West 28th Street for $147 million in October 2020, and then unloaded a nearly complete Pestana Hotel at 338 West 39th Street in December of the same year for $31.5 million.
Born in Taipei in 1960, Chang emigrated to the U.S. and dropped out of high school at 17 to help his parents manage a motel they owned in Los Angeles. He bought his first Chinese restaurant in the Baltimore suburbs in 1979, and he ended up opening and selling 30 restaurants by 1983, according to the Journal. He tired of the restaurant business and used profits from selling off the eateries to buy his first hotel in Hagerstown, Md.
After a decade or so running hotels in the suburbs, he bought his first development site in New York City in the city in 1997. Since then, he has helped pioneer the budget hotel industry in New York, cutting costs by buying midblock sites and shrinking room sizes to as small as 150 square feet.