Rome, a new ‘dolce vita’ on the horizon?

Rome, the eternal city; who is not in love with it? It has always been a must for renowned operators to have Rome in their portfolios, but it seems that recently fresh interest, almost a sense of urgency, is pervading the estate market related to the hospitality segment.

Last year I inspected several glorious buildings, evaluating the potential to convert some of these sleeping giants into luxury hotels. Usually dismissed headquarters of financial institutions, these spaces are empty shells, lifeless cavernous rooms filled with memories of human activity scattered around: dusty desks, random files, broken soffits, hanging cables…

These inspections are somehow creepy and sad, but almost immediately the mind start to imagine a lobby, a restaurant, a suite; the guest’s experience takes shape and, fast way forward, after a couple of hours, a new hotel is already imagined.  

And the city, what a backdrop! An ocean of architecture, a feast for the eyes, I don’t think there is a more absorbing, head-spinning urban fabric than in Rome. A sort of cultural dizziness that is sweet and energetic, so rich and beautiful that we are ready to forgive almost everything; the traffic, the garbage around, the thick layer of grease on the roads and the local behaviors and attitude that from colorful can easily fall into the rude and gross category.

A typical example is the one reported in the photo I have taken in a small hotel: an emergency exit blocked by wild parking – and I assure you, it happened all day long for the week I was there.

And here my frustration with Italy and my fellow Italians starts to surface. I have a long list of investors ready to risk significant amounts of money to transform those empty buildings into refined and welcoming hotels, and I know that we could create amazing destinations. Yet, when the question about timing comes, I have to say, especially for historic buildings, that we are looking, if we are clever, at a period of five to seven years before opening.

Yes, five to seven years if the mayor doesn’t change, if the government doesn’t fall, if, if, if …

Keeping in mind that Italy has had more than 50 governments from the end of World War II, and you get the picture.

So much for making building permits so complicated and then we let people park in front of a safety exit and nobody sees a problem – neither the person who parks the car or the hotel’s owner; the only thing that counts is that on the floor plan the exit is indicated, how typical.

Luckily for us, the beauty of a city like Rome acts like a drug for many wealthy investors, so no matter what, projects do still become a reality. W hotels, just to mention an international brand, will be one of the next to open, and few more are under construction.

But we could do much better if instead of a pedantic bureaucracy we could have a sensible yet progressive approach from the authorities. Everyone should remember that what we enjoy today is the result of bold, innovative design that was nurtured and encouraged 500 years ago.

And not every building, just because it is old, should be classified as untouchable; we had ugly and irrelevant architecture centuries ago like we have today, so the flexibility in the intervention should be allowed.

And I’m saying this being not only a hotel designer but also a conservation architect who loves historic buildings…