ROME — Initial negotiations have begun between the Order of the Holy Sepulcher of the Catholic Church and Bill Gates’ Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts chain regarding the potential opening of a luxury hotel near St. Peter’s Basilica, intended for the wealthiest tourists and pilgrims visiting the Eternal City.
The property in question is the Palazzo di Domenico della Rovere in Borgo, simply called “Palazzo della Rovere”, which is located along Via della Conciliazione, the main street leading to the embrace of Bernini’s colonnades in St. Rock.
Previously owned by the Jesuit order, the building is now owned by the Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, which is made up of approximately 30,000 Knights and Dames around the world, who are dedicated to providing financial support to the church in the Holy Land.
The funds go to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which runs pastoral, educational and social works in the territories of Jordan, Palestine, Israel and Cyprus.
The building dates from the Renaissance and contains a turret, a large courtyard and ancient frescoes by the Italian artist Pinturicchio, and is the only property owned by the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. It currently serves as the Order’s world headquarters.
Until recently, the building was occupied by the family-run Columbus Hotel, which closed before the COVID-19 pandemic. Only the administrative offices of the Order remained open.
Now the Order is in initial negotiations with the Four Seasons chain for a 27-year, approximately $52.4 million contract for a swanky new hotel with a spa, gym and restaurants staffed by chefs from world renown.
The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is headquartered in Toronto and operates more than 100 hotels and resorts worldwide.
Although it was founded by Canadian hotelier Isadore Sharp, since 2007 Microsoft founder Bill Gates has been a majority shareholder in the chain, owning around 71% through his holding company Cascade Investment.
According to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Serawho claims to have documents related to the negotiations, after the closure of the Columbus Hotel, the Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, the Italian Cardinal Fernando Filoni, gave his agreement at the end of 2020 for a public tender for the property.
The tender indicated that these were hotels rated four stars or less.
Within weeks, nearly 60 offers were made, and that list eventually dwindled to 10. Last summer, the Order reportedly narrowed the number to just three candidates for the contract, eliminating other top chains such than Hilton and Marriott.
Negotiations with Four Seasons have just started. According to Corriere della Serathe multi-million dollar contract would stipulate an annual rent of just over $1 million and would include rebuilding the property and restoring the frescoes.
A business plan for the hotel includes 64 rooms plus 11 executive suites and two super suites, with a starting cost of around $514 a night. It also includes an underground car park already under construction.
The aim is for the contract to be signed and the work completed in time to welcome even the most affluent pilgrims and tourists in time for the Jubilee of Hope in 2025.
Critics of the decision have argued that placing such a luxurious hotel on church-owned property is in direct contradiction to the “Pope of the Poor” and his vision of a “poor church for the poor”.
Notably, the hotel is said to be located near where many homeless people sleep at night, taking shelter under the cover of several buildings just outside St. Peter’s Square.
Several companies that lost the bid, including the Radisson and Centurion Hotel Management chains, said they were considering filing a formal complaint with the Vatican Gendarmerie, and even threatened class action lawsuits if they believe this was justified, stating Four Seasons entered the tender late and is a five-star chain, above the stipulations of the tender.
In a statement posted on its website May 18, the Order of the Holy Sepulcher defended its decision-making process regarding the Palazzo della Rovere, stating that the Order: “As a faithful and prudent administrator…has a duty to take care of everything entrusted to her and which she manages with transparency.
“Until recently, part of the building was rented to a hotel company to cover, through remittances, the management costs of the Order, so that all donations received could effectively be directed to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem “, they said, insisting that this was the idea behind donating the property to the Order “from the start”.
The Order has stated that it is looking for a new company to manage the vacancy left by the Hotel Columbus, a company that can carry out the necessary restoration works in agreement with the city of Rome.
To this end, an international commission was created by Filoni to evaluate the options.
“This Commission has indicated its preferences and has chosen – in accordance with the rules established by Pope Francis for the Holy See – the expressions of interest, after a market study, which best correspond to the needs and objectives of the Order. “, they said. .
They insisted that every step of the process has been approved by the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, and said the Order is aware of its responsibility “to preserve and manage the property with care and transparency, to the light of its mission of evangelization and attention”. in the Holy Land. »
“This ethical line is clear in ongoing preliminary discussions with candidate hotel companies,” the Order said.
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