By CASSANDRA VINOGRADAssociated Press
LONDON (AP) - A London landmark that is a ceremonial passageway from Trafalgar Square toward Buckingham Palace will be converted from office space into a luxury hotel, Britain's government said Thursday.
The Admiralty Arch was leased for 99 years to development company Prime Investors Capital, which plans to turn it into a five-star, 100-bedroom hotel.
The government secured a good price for the building, leasing it out for 60 million pounds ($96.7 million) and will grant the public greater access to a historic site, Cabinet Minister Francis Maude said.
While the arch originally housed offices, the building is currently empty and in need of extensive restoration.
"Impressive monument that it is on the outside, for decades the arch has languished as a glorified, actually not that glorified, office space," he said, calling it a taxpayer-owned building offering little value to taxpayers. "This arrangement will not only save money, it will bring this London landmark back to life, opening it up to the public and ensuring they have a say in its future."
Maude called it a "great shame" that there has been virtually no public access to the arch aside from government officials in the 100 years since it was opened. He said that since coming into office in 2010, it was clear the arch - commissioned by King Edward VII as a tribute to his mother Queen Victoria and completed in 1912 - risked falling into disrepair.
"This would have been a tragic waste of a historic building," he said in a statement. "We were determined to find a real purpose to Admiralty Arch, one that would preserve it for future generations and would generate value for the taxpayer."
Prime Investors Capital chief executive Rafael Serrano said the developers are committed to celebrating the original design of the arch's architect, Sir Aston Webb, and reinstating lost features on original drawings from 1910.
The deal is dependent on Westminster City Council granting planning permission for the multi-million pound conversion of the building.
Developers said the cost of the overhaul would be determined by what plans the local authority would consent to and admitted they did not have a "concrete time" for when they hoped to open the doors to the public.
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