Horror hotel has vacancy for a demolition man

CAN THERE be another building on the planet which is both as monstrously ugly and as unhappily located? For 31 years, the Rossiya Hotel has kept intact its reputation as one of the world's eyesores, a blot on a Moscow landscape that includes such pearls as the Kremlin, Red Square and St Basil's Cathedral. But that bad name may be on the way out.

So monolithic are the vital statistics of this soulless block of glass and concrete that it for years made the record books.

The Rossiya was built by the Soviets as the biggest hotel on earth, a boast it can no longer uphold. It has 3,071 rooms for 5,000 guests and the corridors are of such endless-seeming lengths that Russians jokingly advise visitors to arrive with a compass.

History has not been kind. A fire in 1977 which killed 42 people did not close it. Nor did a plague of rats and cockroaches in 1994. Nor did the murder in January of its director, Yevgeny Tsimbalistov, who was shot inwhat appeared to be a Mafia contract killing. He was the fourth hotel executive to be murdered in Moscow in 18 months.

Small wonder that new investors are not always clamouring at the door. But now claims are circulating in the capital about plans for the hotel, which stands only 200 metres from the Kremlin walls.

Just over a year ago, the city announced a scheme to let it to the New York property tycoon Donald Trump for modernisation. So far that has not materialised. Moscow's city architect, Alexander Kuzmin, has disparagingly described the $85 (pounds 51) a night hotel ($50 for Russians) as a "hostel" - a reflection on its decline from one of the USSR's best establishments into seediness.

Plans have been mooted to refurbish it, divide it into four separate hotels, and to lower its highest points, which rise to 12 storeys, obstructing views to the Kremlin. In fact, according to the hotel's spokesman, no fewer than 120 proposals of various forms have been made. "These are being examined," he said. Equally cagey was the Moscow Association of Hotels. "This is not a simple process. There is an officially adopted concept about the development and reconstruction of the hotel which is signed by the Prime Minister [Viktor Chernomyrdin]. The hotel is supposed to be divided into smaller hotels," explained its spokesman, Anatoly Buligin.

But "official concepts" have a way of being ignored in Russia. Kommersant newspaper recently reported that the search was on for an investor willing to demolish it and build something more appropriate in its place. The newspaper published a front page photograph which "disappeared" the hotel. The resulting cityscape was greatly improved.

Bringing the place down is the difficult bit; building something better, given the ugliness of the place, should be a doddle.

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