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Italy's Colosseum at center of battle over restoration

January 13, 2012 |  7:24 am

Colosseum
REPORTING FROM ROME -– A high-profile maker of designer shoes is threatening to withdraw his offer to finance restoration of Italy's 2,000-year-old Colosseum, saying that other sponsors would be welcome to step right up if his offer wasn't appreciated.

Businessman Diego Della Valle, president and chief executive of the Tod's group, had agreed to put up $33 million to restore the iconic Colosseum, Italy's most visited monument. But the plan has been plagued by legal hurdles and complaints from civic groups, leading Della Valle to consider rescinding his offer.

Work is supposed to begin in March on the monument, parts of which are crumbling. Over the Christmas holidays, small pieces were reported to have fallen from the pollution-blackened arena that once held gladiator battles for 70,000 cheering spectators.

But Della Valle has been frustrated by court challenges and protests over his involvement in helping restore it.

"I've never seen anything like this in all these years of business," Della Valle told reporters earlier this week.

"I was hoping that our operation would pave the way for similar interventions, in Pompeii, Venice or Florence," Della Valle added, but he said the controversy surrounding the Colosseum could keep other interested businesses away.

Private sponsorships for public works are unusual in Italy and often regarded with suspicion. Della Valle's agreement to put up 25 million euros (about $33 million) was signed with Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno about a year ago.

Protests were soon lodged in court and with a government watchdog agency by a union and at least one consumer group that said that the deal was akin to selling off the family jewels.

One of the them, the Antitrust Authority, has already said that the private agreement violated rules of competitive bidding.

Della Valle denied charges that he intended to exploit the image of the Colosseum for commercial purposes. The agreement says the Tod’s name can be printed on the back of tickets and on panels at ground level explaining the restoration, he said. Otherwise, he said, “there is no commercial advantage.”

After meeting with Italy’s new culture minister, Lorenzo Ornaghi, Della Valle agreed to wait for the opinion of the court and the ministry’s response before making a final decision.

"I only ask that they hurry up," he said.

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-- Sarah Delaney

Photo: Rome's iconic Colosseum during a candlelight procession marking Good Friday in 2000. Credit: Andrew Medichini / Associated Press

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