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Hotel Carlton sparks square rejuvenation

The refurbished facade of the Hotel Carlton reveals nothing of the tangled mess inside, or of the steady process of transformation that is renewing the famous building. What today is a heap of shattered glass will tomorrow be an oaken reception desk. Where wires hang menacingly from the ceiling, a state-of-the-art office space will soon take shape for any number of international firms.
But perhaps most importantly (for the city of Bratislava anyway), what is now a muddy and scarred swath of land in front of the hotel will next spring become part of a totally renovated Hviezdoslavovo námestie, one of the capital's most famous squares.
"The reconstruction of Hviezdoslavovo námestie is the city's greatest project for the next year," said Old Town spokesman Milan Vajda. "Because of the Hotel Carlton reconstruction, the city government decided to rework the whole square, from the Hotel Danube to the National Opera House."


Carlton guests can check into what will be the penthouse September 1.
photo: Chris Togneri

The refurbished facade of the Hotel Carlton reveals nothing of the tangled mess inside, or of the steady process of transformation that is renewing the famous building. What today is a heap of shattered glass will tomorrow be an oaken reception desk. Where wires hang menacingly from the ceiling, a state-of-the-art office space will soon take shape for any number of international firms.

But perhaps most importantly (for the city of Bratislava anyway), what is now a muddy and scarred swath of land in front of the hotel will next spring become part of a totally renovated Hviezdoslavovo námestie, one of the capital's most famous squares.

"The reconstruction of Hviezdoslavovo námestie is the city's greatest project for the next year," said Old Town spokesman Milan Vajda. "Because of the Hotel Carlton reconstruction, the city government decided to rework the whole square, from the Hotel Danube to the National Opera House."

In order to construct a massive four-storey, 420-car capacity underground parking lot for the Carlton, workers had to tear up a significant chunk of the square stretching east from the statue of one of Slovakia's most famous poets, Pavol Orságh Hviezdoslav, to the Kelt pub on the east corner of the square.

And because Bratcarl, Hotel Carlton's investors, must redo the section when construction is finished, the city decided to move forward with plans of its own to renovate the rest of the square. One improvement will be a decidedly greener Hviezdoslavovo námestie; in order to cut down 11 trees on the square for the garage's construction, Bratcarl had to promise Bratislava Mayor Jozef Moravčík to plant five new trees for every one cut down.

Vajda explained that the trees would be planted around the hotel, thereby creating a "tree alley" in the form of an L extending to Námestie Ľudovíta Štúra near the Danube. When all is finished, Vajda said, citizens would have one of the most aesthetically-pleasing corridors in the capital city.

"The Hotel Carlton project is the reconstruction of the decade, and we took that into consideration for our square renovation plans," Vajda said. "When both projects are finished there will be fountains, statues, tree alleys, restaurants, and the Opera House... it will be very popular."

The grand hotel

The highlight of the new square, along with the Opera House, will undoubtedly be the Carlton. Built in 1760 as an inn then called "At the three green trees," it originally offered 22 rooms and could stable 120 horses.

In the late 1840's, a bigger hotel named "The National" was opened on the premises. The Hotel Carlton was later born in 1913 when a restaurant, saloon and winter garden were added to the complex.

Between the world wars the hotel reached its peak popularity, earning a reputation as the grandest hotel in central Europe. Under communism, however, it was neglected, fell into disrepair and was shut down in the 1980's.

Finding an investor to revive the storied hotel ended in several failed attempts - 51, according to project architect Vladimír Vršanský - until Bratcarl, a Slovak firm with Belgian shareholders, took on the project. Teamed with the Belgian construction firm Cotecno and the Slovak sub-contractor Váhostav, which was hired for the garage's construction, project representatives are now promising that the hotel will again reign supreme in the city, if not the whole region.

"This is a famous building," said Hotel Carlton commercial manager Miroslav Kubík. "But that is not the only reason why people will be attracted to it. The new Hotel Carlton offers a hotel, parking, and office space all in a prime location."

Kubík said that the hotel would have 168 rooms for guests and 12,000 square metres of office space. Although he would not reveal any of the firms expected to take up residency in the Carlton, he said that "if half of the interested firms sign a leasing contract we will be full".

Bratcarl CEO Gautier Vaneyck said that the underground garage would be completed by January, 2001, that firms could move into office space as of August 1, and that the first guest would be admitted in September. He said that unexpected costs had hampered construction - the garage was originally expected to be finished by May, 2000, and the original 1.5 billion crown (then $30 million) cost projection now stood at "nearly 2 billion crowns ($40 million)" - but added that no further delays were expected.

For city planners, all the better. "We are excited about this project," Vajda said. "We have a meeting every Monday morning in the mayor's office and are looking forward to completing the square at the same time as the hotel to create a square which will be thought of in terms of importance along with Hlavné námestie (Main Square) and SNP square."

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