London's new £200m hotel – where the owners want to check out already

Developers hope their transformation of the Swiss Centre will make them rich overnight
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The Independent Culture

London's latest addition to the hotel market opens next month, hoping to attract not only well-heeled guests but well-positioned buyers as it showcases what comes with its £200m asking price.

The W Hotel, in the grimy tourist ghetto of Leicester Square, is a no-expense-spared, 192-bedroom development that is being marketed by Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels on behalf of Northern Irish developers McAleer & Rushe, who bought the former Swiss Centre building for £47m in 2004.

Industry sources have maintained the sale is not forced, but represents McAleer & Rushe's desire to fund 'reinvestment in new projects'.

A spokesman for the developers said earlier this month that they'd had "numerous direct approaches" from parties interested in buying the building,.

He added: "In light of the current strong demand for prime London property, we have appointed Jones Lang LaSalle to conduct a review of our best possible strategy.

"Our priority is to ensure the successful completion of this project on time and on budget."

When the hotel opens to the public on 14 February, the owners hope that design quirks like Chesterfield-style sofas set around two circular fireplaces will attract interest in a fiercely competitive market.

What comprised the Swiss Centre's 1963 modernist exterior now takes the form of an art installation created by UK artist Jason Bruges. When it opens, six cameras on the hotel's roof will record life at both sky and street level. This footage is then projected via LEDs on to the outside of the building.

Inside, meanwhile, the black, dimly-lit corridors give the place an exclusive nightclub feel, a distinct remove from the usual beige palette favoured by luxury hotel chains.

There's also a screening room which, according to hotel gossip, is only there as a favour to the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. Apparently the cinema in the old Swiss Centre was the place he took his wife on their first date, and since planning permission for the hotel was granted when he was still in office, perhaps it's more than just tittle-tattle.

While the rooms (from £269 a night) are chic, it's the high-priced suites that W hopes will attract a buzz. They feature double-headed showers and baths big enough to fit several people. Then there's the penthouse or "E-Wow" suite, which has a rotating sofa, a Jacuzzi with a 62-inch TV, and a mirrored ceiling above the king-size bed. Yours for £5,000 a night.

The Wyld Bar is also central to W's idea of projecting a fun image. The hotel has employed Matt Hermer, whose Ignite group owns the west London society nightclub Boujis, to run the bar.

Mr Hermer says he is modelling the place on the Met Bar, the Park Lane hang out of celebrities in the 1990s.

"The Met Bar was the first hotel bar that was uber-cool," he says. "It set the scene nearly 20 years ago. We want to help make hotels cool again."

W hotels worldwide are magnets for celebrities – and the company, owned by Starwood Hotels, is on a drive to double its current array of 37 properties this year. So will the W be actively competing with the stars' current favourites?

"We're not proactively looking for that, although we have had enquiries," says Kevin Rockey, the general manager. "We want to do things in a different way. We're not looking to just host parties, we also want to create and collaborate."

"It's a great location," says Mr Rockey. "You can walk to Soho, Chinatown, Mayfair and Covent Garden."

Reopened to new ideas

The Langham June 2010 The Palm Court tearoom is the jewel in the crown of this hotel, which has benefited from extensive renovation.

The Savoy October 2010 The decadent decor blends Edwardian design and art deco with contemporary flourishes.

St Pancras Renaissance 2011 This five-star destination features direct access to the concourse of St Pancras International.

London's Swiss enclave

While the corner of Leicester Square and Wardour Street is now home to the country's first outpost of the American W hotel chain, the site has long been associated with a different nation.

From its opening in 1968, the Swiss Centre was a modernist 14-storey showcase for Switzerland. The complex contained a Swiss bank, shops, restaurant, businesses, and the Swiss National Tourist Board, and in 1984 a glockenspiel clock was installed complete with bell-ringers in traditional Swiss costume.

The centre's popularity had waned so much that by 2006 demolition was inevitable. Yet there are plans to create a new 10m version of the old clock to bring the sound of the Alps back to Leicester Square.