LONDON -- Admiralty Arch, a century-old stone archway and building that serves as the ceremonial gateway to Buckingham Palace, is to get a new lease on life as a luxury hotel, a government minister confirmed Thursday.
Built by King Edward VII to honor the long reign of his mother Queen Victoria, the arch has been leased to Spanish property entrepreneur Rafael Serrano, chief executive of the London-based investment company Prime Investors Capital. Serrano paid about $96 million for the 99-year lease.
From the top of the central archway on one side guests will enjoy a view toward Buckingham Palace down the Mall, the tree-lined avenue that is the traditional route of royal processions, including April’s royal wedding cortege of Prince William and his bride Catherine Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge. The other side looks down on Trafalgar Square, home to Nelson’s Column and a meeting point for public celebrations, rallies and protests.
It is the latest of the government property fire sales around Europe over the last two years that come amid austerity drives to tame massive deficits. In France and Italy, government-owned palaces and villas have gone to wealthy private investors. In Greece, state-owned buildings, marinas and ports reportedly are up for sale.
Francis Maude, Cabinet Office minister and paymaster general, said his department had overseen sales of more than 250 government properties in an effort to help the struggling economy and reduce government office space, generating savings of over $1 billion in the last two years.
Subject to planning permission, the Prime Investors Capital proposal calls for a hotel with 100 rooms and suites, bars and a restaurant -- ideally in the bridge over the Mall -- and redevelopment of the surrounding area, at present a traffic-ridden corner of Trafalgar Square.
Michael Blair, chief architect in Serrano’s team, said the developer would use the original drawings of Aston Webb, the architect called upon by Edward VII in 1910 to build the regal tribute to his mother.
The team faces a long restoration job. Many features damaged and lost during the building’s life as government offices will be restored and the whole operation closely monitored by English Heritage, a conservation and restoration commission.
The arch was home to First Sea Lords of the Admiralty and naval and defense ministry personnel until 1994, then became housing for “disparate groups of civil servants,” said Maude. However, it is no longer suitable for modern office needs and was falling into disrepair.
“Impressive monument that it is on the outside, for decades the Arch has languished.... It’s a taxpayer-owned building that offers little value to the taxpayer,” said Maude. “This arrangement will
not only save money, it will bring this London landmark back to life.”
-- Janet Stobart
Photo: Foot Guards and Household Cavalry proceed down the Mall in London in front of Admiralty Arch in preparation for ceremonies to honor Queen Elizabeth II on June 9. Credit: Sang Tan / Associated Press.