Dubai & Malta Revive London Metropole

In London, The Crown Estate has sold the old Hotel Metropole to Malta-based International Hotel Investments Plc for £130 million. The once-successful hotel, built in the 1880s, will be renovated into a luxury hotel again. This came after worries of a possible demolition, as the building was not Listed.

In a press release, the Estate said that while Crown Estate received a number of “very strong bids,” IHI and its principal shareholders, Dubai’s Istithmar Hotels, FZE and Libyan Foreign Investment Company, would be most sensitive to the building’s history. The move was slightly controversial as it involved a Sovereign fund from Qatar and Libya buying a part of a prime piece of H.M. property. Said Charles Gardner, Head of Office Portfolio at The Crown Estate, “We were impressed by IHI’s track record and are confident that they will restore the once grand Metropole Hotel to its former glory.”

Alfred Pisani, Chairman of IHI, said in a statement:

“IHI and our partners, Istithmar Hotels and LFICO, are very much looking forward to establishing a presence here in London – as investors, developers and operators of the Corinthia Hotels brand. We are excited about our plans for the refurbishment of the Metropole Building as a five star luxury hotel, but above all we are eager to becoming part of London’s vibrant hotel community and to working closely with The Crown Estate.”

IHI is actually a Maltese company; their hotels trade under the name Corinthia Group, a brand name derived from the Corinthia Palace hotel in Malta. They own a lot of cool properties; at right, a show from their Gambian property, the Corinthia Atlantic Hotel just outside of Banjul, Gambia. (Bring that show to London, eh?)

Frankly, Maltese ownership gives the property a level of intrigue and excitement. Pisani has a good record, it seems, and owns a diverse group of properties, many of which are historic. Corinthia Group has also recently affiliated with Wyndham, which has been quite astute in reflagging historic hotel properties in order to burnish its brand, including the George Washington in downtown Winchester, Virginia.

There is a sweet victory in Libya investing in such a project in London; it’s evidence that petroleum profits can’t just sit in the bank, they have to be invested somewhere. While no one in the U.K. will ever forget past Libyan offences anytime soon, it is nice to see Libyan capital investing in tourism infrastructure and fixing up decrepit London landmarks, rather than hiring folks to sneak timed devices into Pan Am luggage.

Good wins! It’s darn tootin’ rewarding to run a glamorous old hotel in Whitehall. Now that’s fun!

The Metropole, which opened in 1885 as the Hotel Metropole, was one of the great Victorian hotels along with the Langham, Claridge’s and Savoy. After World War II, The British Defence Department used the building for offices. On its website, it found a brochure that said that it was for:

“Officers and others attending the levees at St James; to Ladies going to the Drawing Rooms, State Balls, and Concerts at Buckingham Palace; and to colonial and American visitors unused to the great world of London’.

Sounds pretty good to us!

The hotel was part of Gordon Hotels Ltd., an early 20th century hotel group that also ran Metropole hotels in Folkestone, Monte Carlo and Cannes. In London, they ran the Grand, Victoria, First Avenue and Grosvenor hotels. The company hoped that “Intending visitors should prevent disappointment, and engage rooms in advance.” Gordon was run by Frederick Gordon, who served on the boards of Bovril and Pears.

The big question is what will the new hotel be called? Is there a possibility of using the Metropole name? Already in London there is a Hilton Metropole. However, there are lots of Metropole hotels around the world; and it has become a sort of a genericized term. Perhaps by adding some descriptors and calling it The Hotel Metropole 1885 or the Cornithia Metropole Whitehall, the hotel could keep and use the Metropole name without confusing the public.



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