French Entrepreneur's Plan to Transform Historic Hotel de la Marine Into Modern-Day Medici Villa Raises Eyebrows in Paris

French Entrepreneur's Plan to Transform Historic Hotel de la Marine Into Modern-Day Medici Villa Raises Eyebrows in Paris
The future of the grand Hôtel de la Marine on the Place de la Concorde continues to stir up controversy, even as a deadline looms for the French state to select a proposal for the historic site. The building, originally constructed in the 18th century by Louis XV, served as the headquarters of the French navy, and, for now, is still partially occupied by naval offices. Last November the government called for proposals for leasing the building, but there was a public outcry over entrusting a part of French heritage to the private sector. In response, French president Nicolas Sarkozy created a committee, chaired by past-president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, to decide on the building's future. It will make its decision before Bastille Day, July 14.

Many organizations are hoping to get their hands on the prestigious building, but details about most plans are few and far between. According to Le Monde, the Louvre is seeking the space, but its exact intentions remain a mystery, and the Mobilier National, a state agency responsible for furnishing the presidential palace and other government institutions, has also submitted a proposal, and could outfit the building in period furnishings. But by far the flashiest contender for the coveted space is French businessman Alexandre Allard's plan — submitted when the open call for proposals was launched and still officially in the running — to create a multi-disciplinary cultural center called "La Royale." But his vision has stirred up quite a lot of controversy.

Allard, a technology and real estate entrepreneur, has been working on the project since 2008. He has already spent several millions of euros and is working with a team of about 50 people, L'Express reports. The project's pricetag is said to be €400 million, which includes €240 million for the renovation of the historic building, to be overseen by Jean Nouvel. Allard sees the project as a "French version of the Medici villas" in Renaissance Florence. Not given to understatements, Allard also described the prospective center as "the gathering place of all the talents of the planet," according to Libération.

At a press conference at the end of June, Allard said that "art will be present in all its forms: artisans, galleries, exhibition spaces, auction rooms, music and film studios, culinary art, and foundations," according to Les Echos. The project — which has its own Web site — involves traditional artisans selling their wares, a grand restaurant, event spaces, and artists' studios. Allard has enlisted various investors, including French banks and his own Groupe Allard, which will invest €100 million. "The philosopher's stone of culture is creativity," he told L'Express. "The state has no more money. The Louvre will cost the state three billion while La Royale will bring in six."

Not everyone sees it this way, however. According to Le Monde, Giscard d'Estaing referred to Allard's project as an "international bazaar" and added that "in five years, an emirate will own it." Given this point of view, it seems unlikely that Giscard d'Estaing's committee will choose to entrust the Hôtel de la Marine to Allard. However, there is still a dilemma to be resolved, according to Le Monde: the former French president wants the building to remain "the property of the state, and the state is the people," but at the same time whatever solution is found should "cost the taxpayer nothing."

When the naval offices move to the new headquarters for the French military in 2014, the building will be ready for occupancy by its new tenant — whoever that may be.