Qatari prince strikes deal in Paris palace row
Paris, January 23, 2010
A row over a Qatari prince's plan to modernise one of the grandest mansions in Paris with a lift and an underground car park has ended after he agreed to rein in the project to address the concerns of conservationists.
The French culture ministry said Prince Hamad Bin Abdullah Al-Thani had signed a deal with a cultural association that had sought to stop his overhaul of the 17th century building on the Ile Saint-Louis in central Paris.
Under the compromise, French media said the association will withdraw its lawsuit and the prince will be allowed to start renovation work his supporters say is badly need to save the Hotel Lambert, an architectural gem where Frederic Chopin played and Voltaire wrote.
French media said Prince Hamad had discarded his idea for a car park and also abandoned his plans to install a bathroom that experts feared would damage precious paintings.
'This is a great day. There have been a lot of improvements,' Jean-Francois Cabestan, an expert for the association that had challenged the prince, was quoted as saying in daily Le Parisien.
The prince bought the mansion from the Rothschild family in 2007 for between 60 and 80 million euros ($85 million and $113 million), according to French media. It features dazzling ceiling paintings and an expansive courtyard.
Some of the prince's plans for the Hotel Lambert had been praised, including restoration work on the celebrated 'Gallery of Hercules' by Charles Le Brun, the same artist who painted the spectacular Galerie des Glaces at the Palace of Versailles.
But critics had been against the new bathroom and were sceptical of the plan to put a parking lot and car lift underneath the paved courtyard.
Historians had publicly denounced these plans during months of bitter negotiations, but the culture ministry described Prince Hamad a 'great friend of France' who was 'very sensitive' to the country's heritage in a statement released on Friday.
Media reports have said the building is crumbling, with rotten floorboards and a damaged roof and staircase. Le Parisien said the prince would invest 45 million euros over three years to renovate the mansion.
'This mansion will become a family home for my parents, myself and my six brothers and sisters,' the son of the owner told Le Figaro newspaper's Saturday edition. – Reuters