A Stalin Antique, Now With the Hilton Touch

Hilton Moscow LeningradskayaThe 1950s-era Leningradskaya was designed in a mixture of architectural styles, ranging from Naryshkin Baroque to Gothic influence and Russian Orthodox.
After an expensive, 2 1/2 year makeover, the Leningradskaya was finally ready for its close-up at a grand opening Saturday.

All was in place. In the luxurious Stalin-era lobby, dozens of guests ogled the chandeliers, glittering as new, and a historic pair of shining bronze lions. Smart-suited staff stood in attendance, ready for Mayor Yury Luzhkov to cut the ceremonial red ribbon.

Yet, this being the opening of a posh Moscow hotel, there was naturally a holdup. Luzhkov was detained, staff said — stuck in scheduling hell between a meeting with city pensioners and a power station opening with Unified Energy System boss Anatoly Chubais.

Guests shrugged, sipped their drinks, chatted — and slowly faded away.

Yet while the ribbon cutting — the second planned in a month — would have to wait, the renaissance of the formerly scruffy Stalin-era Hotel Leningradskaya into a five-star Hilton with a polished exterior and a world-class name appeared otherwise complete.

Towering over Komsomolskaya Ploshchad northeast of the city center, near the spot where the Leningradsky, Kazansky and Yaroslavsky stations are situated, the imposing 132-meter-high, 28-story wedding-cake structure was built from 1949 to 1953 as one of Josef Stalin's famed "Seven Sisters" — a combination of architectural styles ranging from Naryshkin Baroque to Gothic influence and Russian Orthodox, mixed in with a dollop of Soviet homage to victory in World War II.

Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya
The hotel says it has sought to include retro designs reminiscent of the 1950s in furnishing many of the suites.
Luzhkov, whose city government holds a 30 percent stake in the hotel, has lauded the restoration work on the Leningradskaya. It has also, less usually for a City Hall-backed project, won praise from preservationists.

"It meets the highest standards while all historical and architectural forms remain intact," Luzhkov said in February, announcing the completion of work by contractor Mospromstroi, said to have cost upward of $100 million. "For the last seven years, the hotel was at a virtual standstill and was never [fully] utilized."

The opening to paying guests, expected in June, comes at the end of a process started in earnest in September 2006, when the world-famous Hilton group signed a long-term franchise agreement with proprietor JSC Sadko Hotel, that would allow the Russian company to run the hotel under the Hilton brand.

Sadko signed a separate deal with Interstate Management Services, the largest independent U.S. hotel management company with more than 80 hotels under the Hilton family of brands in North America, to operate the hotel.

For Hilton, making its first foray into the Russian hospitality market, the reconstruction of the old Leningradskaya has been both meticulous and painstaking.

Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya
Many of the smaller rooms have been expanded to meet Hilton standards.
Each of the guest rooms — including 39 executive suites and one presidential suite — had to be rebuilt and expanded, at a cost of $16,000 per room.

The grandiose reconstruction reduced the number of rooms from 329 to 273, the result of an effort to expand each room from 18 to 33 square meters to bring them into compliance with Hilton standards. All now are equipped with individual climate control, LCD televisions, high-speed and Wi-Fi Internet.

The renovation also transformed an old Stalin-era bomb shelter in the basement, which has now been transformed into a modern health club with a 12-meter swimming pool, beauty salon and sauna.

"Our aim was not only to restore and bring back the beauty of this historical heritage, but also complement it with new upscale facilities, latest technologies and highest level of standards and hospitality of an international five-star hotel," JЪrg Beginen, the hotel's general manager, said in a statement.

Yet, as another hospitality season rolls in, industry officials and analysts said the addition of another hotel in the high-class segment is only a trickle for a city that still finds it difficult to cope with large influxes of visitors, from business travelers to football fans.

The cheapest room at the Leningradskaya will start at 12,000 rubles ($500) per night, while the presidential suite will set guests back 65,000 rubles ($2,750).

The extra capacity it has brought also pales in comparison — at least in numerical terms — with the loss of other city-center hotels in recent years.

The sprawling 3,000-room Hotel Rossiya — easier on the budget than any of its city center rivals — was torn down in 2006 but the Zaryadye project, designed to provide five-star accommodation in its place, so far remains on the drawing board, mired in messy legal argument.

Yelena Ristavaara, director of consulting at Colliers International, said that even another high-class hotel in the city was a drop in the bucket.

hilton moscow leningradskaya
One of a pair of German-made bronze lions adorning the hotel’s grand lobby.

Perennial delays in opening completed hotels and the difficulty of overcoming bureaucratic hurdles could make many developers wary, industry participants said.

Bureaucratic difficulties earlier last month caused the Leningradskaya's first scheduled opening date to be delayed for a month, said an official at the hotel who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the subject.

"After completing the preparations for a grand opening in April, administrators 'failed to receive the right papers' for the opening to go ahead," the source said.

Luzhkov's no-show on Saturday, however, would only be a technical holdup and would not affect the guests who booked rooms next month, hotel employees said on the sidelines of the event.

Longer delays were experienced by another luxury hotel, the 11-story Ritz-Carlton, which only opened its doors in June 2007, instead of in October 2006, after months of delay attributed to waiting for approval to connect to the city's electricity grid.

Yury Mereminsky, director of consulting at Penny Lane Realty, said such delays did no favors for the city's perceived business climate or tourism business.

"There's an acute shortage of quality hotels, [given] the high growth in tourism, especially in the past year," Mereminsky said. "Moscow needs to double the number of hotel [rooms] to satisfy current demand."

Staff Writer Tim Wall contributed to this report.