AP News

Moscow's Hotel Metropol up for auction


MOSCOW (AP) — Michael Jackson slept there. Vladimir Lenin harangued Bolsheviks there. Over the past century, the Hotel Metropol has seen the extremes of Russian life, from austere revolutionary fervor to flashy pop indulgence.

Now, at a starting price of 8.7 billion rubles ($272 million), the hotel is up for sale Thursday, auctioned off by the Moscow city government as part of its privatization program. That's expected to go higher — in steps of 435 million rubles ($13.6 million) — and where it will stop is anybody's guess.

"It's hard to tell what's justified" as a final price, said Tatiana Tikova, the director of the valuation department at the Colliers real estate brokerage in Moscow.

Officials haven't released the names of the prospective bidders, but news reports say Azimut and Khorston, two major Russian hotel chains, are expected to be among them.

Moscow, with a perpetual shortage of hotel rooms and a business culture that adores ostentation, is an attractive market for high-end hoteliers and the Metropol offers plenty of curb-flash.

Situated catty-corner from the Bolshoi Theater and an easy stroll from Red Square, the location is prime for any guest who wants to feel in the very center of the city's heaving action.

It's one of Moscow's most distinctive buildings as well, a cheery Art Nouveau confection in a city where buildings mostly seem to glower. Although at six stories it's one of the city center's more low-rise structures, it stands out with sinuous curves, friezes of women en deshabille and bands of brightly colored majolica tiles. Several elaborate mosaics top the building, the most noted being Mikhail Vrubel's "Princess of Dreams," showing a dying knight sailing through a crashing sea to a vision of his beloved.

Then, there's the historical cachet. When it opened in 1901, it was a paragon of Russians' growing prosperity and confidence, but 17 years later took on a far different role. When Bolsheviks decided to move their government from St. Petersburg to Moscow, the hotel was appropriated to become the Second House of the Soviets.

A large plaque on the exterior notes that in 1918-19, Lenin "many times gave reports and speeches at sessions and party congresses" in the hotel and chatted there with members of the "prodotryad," armed squads of workers who forcefully appropriated food from the bourgeoisie. Another plaque commemorates a 1921 meeting in the hotel that resulted in a friendship agreement with Mongolia.

In the chaos of World War II, the Metropol became home and office for almost all the foreign journalists allowed to work in the USSR. "Gloomy and cavernous, Mother Metropol was like a college fraternity house" during that time, Whitman Bassow wrote in his book "The Moscow Correspondents."

The auction winner will get all that, but won't get the hotel's elaborate array of antique furnishings and paintings. How much of that might be available for separate purchase is unclear. Natalya Bocharova, head of the city property department, said this month that an array of objects from the hotel will be turned over to museums.

The furnishings are a major part of the hotel's appeal. Jackson, during a 1993 stay, reportedly was so enamored with a lamp featuring a bear figure that he agitated unsuccessfully to buy it.

Despite its storied history and reputation, hotel review websites suggest the Metropol's rooms often are in need of spiffing up. Tikova said privatization should ensure the hotel gets an upgrade.

"It allows for more efficient management, it allows timely renovations," she said.

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Oleg Yuriyev in Moscow contributed to this report.


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