. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Unloved Intourist Closes Its Doors

MTThe 22-story Intourist hotel is to be demolished floor by floor starting on March 7.
Condemned to demolition for sticking out like a sore thumb among the elegant old buildings on lower Tverskaya Ulitsa, the Intourist hotel closed its doors this week to its last guest.

Known as the Gniloi Zub, or the Rotten Tooth, the building was the last of a series of rectilinear high-rises to be built in Moscow. They were the Soviet answer to Manhattan's skyscrapers after Nikita Khrushchev's visit to New York in 1959. The first such buildings were those built along Kalininsky Prospekt, now called the Novy Arbat.

The 22-story Intourist, completed in 1970, offers panoramic views of the Kremlin and central Moscow from its upper floors, but it is its height in contrast to the buildings around it that critics say most destroys the street's architectural harmony.

"From the very beginning it was clear that this was a huge mistake in city planning," Alexander Kudryavtsev, head of the Moscow Architecture Institute, said Monday on Ekho Moskvy radio.

The hotel itself, with its cramped floor plans, falls far short of international standards. The city government, which owns and runs the Intourist, says it wants a modern five-star hotel on the prime spot a short walk from Red Square.

Demolition of the Intourist is to start March 7 and should take about a year, Deputy Mayor Iosif Ordzhonikidze said Tuesday. Construction of a new hotel should be completed by late 2004 or early 2005, he said.

The existing building has its defenders, though. Intourist deputy general director Alexander Kolesnikov said the 434-room hotel has been profitable and is structurally sound enough to last 100 years.

"Besides, every epoch has its architecture, whatever people think of it," he said Tuesday.

McDonald's restaurants are also in the heart of the city, even though they are out of keeping with the traditional cityscape, he added.

The similar Zolotoye Koltso hotel on Smolenskaya Ploshchad was reconstructed into a profitable five-star operation.

Zoya Timoshino, 64, chief cashier at the hotel, has worked at Intourist for the entire 32 years of its existence. She said she wept when she came to the hotel Tuesday, its first day without a single guest.

"The last guests were very sorry that it was to be their only visit because the view from the top stories was so great," Timoshino said.

"We weren't such a high-class hotel that people were turned away by our prices," she said. "We were always cheap."

Recent prices ranged from $50 for a room up to $300 for an apartment, Kolesnikov said. As a reflection of the low rates and central location, occupancy rates were about 90 percent, he said.

Even a bomb explosion on the 20th floor in April 1999 did not deter guests, he said. The blast occurred in an elevator near the 20th-floor offices of a firm headed by Iosif Kobzon, a State Duma deputy and popular singer.

Kolesnikov said investigators had identified who was responsible for the blast, but the suspect had not been apprehended.

The roughly 450 remaining staff members will remain until Feb. 8 and will then be given three-month's severance pay, the deputy general director said.

Timoshino said she would retire, but younger staff would have to find new jobs. She did not think this would be too difficult, because the hotel had a highly qualified team, but women who were stripping the bedding on the upper floors Tuesday were not so sure.

"All our lives all we have had is empty promises," one blurted out.

"No one cares about us," complained another.

The city government would like to see a low-rise, 400-room hotel on the site, ideally managed by Hilton.

"We are interested in a management contract for the hotel, but no contract has yet been signed," Tricia Field, spokeswoman for Hilton International, said in a telephone interview from London.

Hilton has signed a contract to manage the Hilton Bolshoi Moscow hotel on Neglinnaya Ulitsa, which is expected to open in July or August, she added.

Ordzhonikidze, in an interview Tuesday with Interfax, said demolition of the Intourist would cost about $4 million. Construction of a new hotel would cost about $120 million, and the investor would need to compensate the city government about $23 million, he said.

In 1999, with a bid of $22.3 million, the French company Superior Ventures was declared the winner of a tender for a 49-year lease on the site. The company, however, is virtually unknown, and neither it nor its subsidiary Red Square Development Co. -- specially created to run the project -- could be contacted.

Scott Antel, partner with Andersen Legal and head of the division that monitors the Russian hotel sector, said in October that the city's estimated costs for building the new hotel put its viability in doubt.

Before the Soviet government built the Intourist hotel, Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis had expressed interest in building an international-standard hotel on the site, but had found the conditions offered by the Soviet authorities unattractive, the newspaper Izvestia reported.

A bakery had previously stood on the site, Timoshino said.

The original plans called for the Intourist to be the first of two twin towers, but the second tower was dropped because it would have meant wrecking the Yermolova Theater next door, Kolesnikov said.

In Soviet times, most Russians were not allowed inside the Intourist, which was a favorite haunt for foreigners living in Moscow. Despite a KGB presence in the often poorly lit lobby, it was a warm and comfortable place to rest. Many foreign students whiled away the hours in the smorgasbord restaurant on the second floor.

In post-Soviet times, a glass-framed Patio Pizza restaurant built in front of the hotel became a popular place to sit and observe city life. No official comment was available on the fate of that restaurant Tuesday, but staff said they expected it to remain open at least until demolition began.

Kolesnikov said no explosives would be used to demolish the hotel, but rather it would be brought down floor by floor.