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What prospects for obsolete facilities?

Di Antonio Caneva, 30 Maggio 2003

One of the problems sometimes facing tourist areas is the presence of buildings that, after a more or less glorious past, have ceased being operative and just stand towering there, often in the centre of important localities, in an anachronistic state of abandonment.
Our country has a significant history, and this history initially produced large and aesthetically remarkable hotels which, however, have not been upgraded with the passing of time, and now lack the essential qualities to stay in the market. Even hotels built in the boom period of the Sixties, based on the simple structural requirements of those times and with management made easier by the availability of low-cost labour, are now going through a difficult period unless they have been able to progressively adapt.
The Liguria Regional Government is discussing a bill which would allow to bypass the hotel restrictions and waive existing urban planning provisions in order to convert hotels closed prior to 31/12/98 into residential functions, office buildings, private or public services, or commercial buildings with the only exception of large distribution. In practice, this would allow to transform hotel facilities, to the advantage of real estate investment, with an additional benefit: by committing to the same land use category for twenty years, up to a 30% building expansion would be authorised, even in derogation of urban plans.
On 21 May, the daily Secolo XIX reported an ISTAT table which showed that hotel closings were no minor phenomenon in Liguria, with a number of 1925 hotels operative in 1998 (from 1 to 5-star ratings), and only 1776 in 2001 (with a reduction of 4468 beds).
These figures are more eloquent if compared with what is going on a few kilometres west of Liguria, in Monaco: the building of the Grimaldi Forum, allowing to host large events in a multi-functional venue, has changed the Principality into an extended building yard where hotels are not closed, but expanded.
It is true, unutilised hotel buildings are often a sorry sight, especially if they are in the middle of well designed urban areas. Equally dangerous, however, is to open the way to purely real estate operations, which may turn into routine and start a process of quick transformations, with enormous repercussions on our tourist industry and nasty effects on employment.
A simple and effective solution may be the one found in Rapallo, where two historic hotels, Excelsior and Europa, after being closed for some time, were given the possibility to start operating again by converting a portion of the building into apartments; the remaining part was completely renovated and upgraded to meet current standards, so as to continue in its traditional hotel function. As the Principality of Monaco has shown, however, the wisest solution would be to seek further and new business opportunities to justify the investments necessary to upgrade hotels that seem to have no future prospects in the current stagnation of the hotel industry.

Translation of the Italian
editorial by Paola Praloran

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