Thursday 17 April 2008

Is U2 facing heartbreak hotel?

THERE is no "plan b" for Dublin's Clarence Hotel, if ambitious plans by owners U2 to extend the building are rejected by planning authorities, guitarist The Edge said yesterday.

And the musician refused to rule out selling the hotel on Wellington Quay if An Bord Pleanala rejects plans to quadruple the size of the hotel, in the process knocking six listed buildings and installing an iconic "skycatcher" on the roof.

Any changes or compromises to the plans would cause the "whole deck of cards to crumple", he said, and, if turned down, both he and co-owner Bono would have to "consider our options".

The pair, along with property developer Paddy McKillen, who also has a stake in the Clarence Partnership, propose investing €150m in quadrupling the size of the building and transforming it into an eight-storey, 140-bedroom five-star hotel.

"We think this intervention and the new hotel design, done by (architect) Norman Foster, is appropriate, given the fact that this part of the city has seen so many changes over the years," The Edge, also known as David Evans, said.

"If it goes ahead, it will be the ninth different version of a hotel on that site, we feel that that in itself is worth preserving. We want to keep the infrastructure in the city, we don't want it to turn into apartments. We don't want it to be lost.

"I think everyone here giving evidence today is similar, in that we all care deeply about Dublin city and its future, we just disagree on what that future should be."

But the plan has caused controversy among conservationists because it involves the virtual destruction of the Clarence Hotel, an art deco building dating from 1937, four Georgian buildings from the early 19th century and Dollard House, which was built in 1886.

All are listed buildings, and only the facades along Wellington Quay will be preserved.

It is proposed to re-use skirting boards, fireplaces, floorboards and all other internal features in the new building. A huge glass atrium, which will be accessible to the public, will be at the heart of the hotel, with a "skycatcher" -- or oval glass roof -- allowing light enter the hotel.

The basement will be home to a swimming pool called "Dubh Linn", with a "Sky Bar" at the top of the building providing views across the city.

But An Taisce and others have claimed that the plans completely disregard Dublin City Council's conservation policies, and guidelines from the Department of the Environment, which state that listed buildings should only be knocked in "exceptional circumstances". None had been demonstrated in this case, conservationist Michael Smith argued, saying An Bord Pleanala could not grant permission "as a matter of law".


"This scheme has a metal roof, and the metal roof looks like a flying saucer," he told the public hearing. "The building in no way complements the character of the quays. It is hubristic, contextually illiterate but certainly entertaining. The effect is to create a silly setpiece."

An Taisce added that the Liffey was a special conservation area, and the design was more suited to the Docklands -- a charge rejected by the design team, which said it was planning to make the Clarence into one of the world's top ten hotels.

If the plans are rejected, the owners would have to consider its options, The Edge added.

"Obviously, as has been well-documented, it's not doing as well as it could. It certainly would make it difficult, if we weren't able to go ahead. We feel this is the only way we can ensure it will remain on that site.

"This scheme has been considered very carefully. We believe it is the best scheme, and anything less would be a compromise and we would be worried about changing anything substantial because the whole deck of cards would just crumple."

Paul Melia
Irish Independent

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