The Watergate Hotel: yours for just £600,000

Middle East and UK firms show interest in building forever associated with Nixon

Stephen Foley
Monday 20 July 2009 00:00
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The Watergate Hotel, the faded jewel in the Washington complex where nefarious deeds brought down President Richard Nixon, is to go under the auctioneer's hammer tomorrow.

Watergate has been closed since 2007. Its most recent owner first tussled with residents about plans to renovate it and finally ran out of money to do so. A 30-day repossession notice expired last week and an auctioneer in the capital said it would start taking offers at 10.15am.

As the Moon landing anniversary and the death of the television news anchor Walter Cronkite unleash a tide of reminiscences about the Nixon era, the bank that has seized the hotel is hoping bidders will see an opportunity to restore the tarnished symbol of that period. Perhaps for as little as $1m (£612,000), a buyer could get their hands on a 12-storey, 251-room Washington landmark, in the Foggy Bottom area of the city's north-west, overlooking the Potomac River.

It was here that President Nixon's burglars slept before breaking into the adjoining offices of the Democratic Party in 1972, a crime whose discovery revealed a trail that led directly to the White House. The Watergate complex, which also includes three apartment buildings, two office blocks and a shopping centre, opened in 1967 and the hotel at its core was a grandiose building adorned with marble floors, old-fashioned furnishings and a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

Today, though, it is shuttered and its lobby is strewn with abandoned furniture, awaiting a $170m renovation that never happened.

Monument Realty, which paid $45m for the hotel in 2004, had first hoped to turn it into luxury apartments, only to reverse course in the face of local opposition. The company's financing partner, Lehman Brothers, went bust last autumn and the financial markets have proved an inhospitable place since then for property firms to find investors.

So the hotel has sunk into foreclosure, owing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the city in property taxes. The new owner will have to pay upwards of $100,000 a month in security even before thinking about the costs of renovating and reopening the hotel.

Yet the auctioneer Paul Cooper, of Alex Cooper Auctioneers, says he has already fielded expressions of interest from bidders around the world. "They are simply doing their due diligence and fact-finding," he told The Washington Post. Local developers, a luxury hotel chain from the Middle Eastern and a London-based hotel company are among those reported to be considering making an offer tomorrow. Several more are said to be planning to approach the bank directly.

Officials at Monument said two weeks ago that they hoped the bank, New York-based PB Capital, could agree to new terms, but no deal had apparently been reached this weekend.

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