Messier's mansion

Vivendi's chateau cost €15.5m to restore. Now it's for sale at a bargain €10m, writes John Lichfield in Paris

Sunday 03 November 2002 01:00

If all the Vivendi Universal assets that have been placed on the market to reduce the Franco-American company's mountain of debts, this may have been the one closest to the heart of the deposed chairman, Jean-Marie Messier.

In a move that has echoes of the £400,000 loss Marconi made on a mansion bought for one of its executives, Vivendi is selling a magnificent 17th- and 18th-century chateau, 30 miles north-west of Paris. Under M. Messier's supervision, the once-dilapidated chateau at Méry-sur-Oise was rebuilt and restored in 1998-99.

The work, which included the creation of a botanic garden and two artificial lakes, cost the company €15.5m (£10m). The chateau is being offered for sale at the bargain price of €10m. It has 15 meeting rooms, fitted with hi-tech conference equipment, and 124 acres of grounds. But it has no bedrooms and only one bathroom, since it was remodelled as a non-residential conference centre.

"This is an extraordinary property," said Patricia Hawkes of the Paris-based estate agent Philip Hawkes, which is handling the sale. "I imagine it would be best suited to an artistic foundation seeking a base in Europe or a Davos-type conference centre."

Mr Messier was deposed as Vivendi's chairman in June after an ambitious programme of acquisitions generated unsustainable debt and a collapse in the company's share price. His successor Jean-Rene Fourtou is selling off many of the group's most prized assets; the latest is publisher Houghton Mifflin, which is going to a consortium of venture capitalists for €1.75bn.

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