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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Rocky Road to a $1,000-Per-Night Ritz

MTA model sipping cognac and smoking in a bathtub as a hotel employee stands by. The room overlooks Tverskaya.
After numerous missed deadlines, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Tverskaya opened its gilded doors over the weekend in hopes of giving the wealthy yet another way to spend their money.

But in keeping with the development's troubled history, building work was still being carried out inside the hotel just hours before it opened for business.

"Every Ritz-Carlton hotel is a long journey, and some are longer than others," said Simon Cooper, president of the Ritz-Carlton group, at a special viewing for reporters Friday.

Walking into the gold and marble foyer, guests will understand where the $350 million spent on the hotel went. Decked out in cherry wood from Altai and crafted by a German designer, the 334-room, 11-story hotel has two restaurants, a Michelin-starred chef, a rooftop bar and a ballroom the size of 2 1/2 tennis courts.

"Our guests are very discerning, and they have high expectations of the Ritz-Carlton brand," Cooper said.

Not only that, but they will have to be very rich.

The cheapest room is priced at $1,000 per night. A night in Room 1101, the presidential suite, goes for 420,000 rubles ($16,700) not including breakfast -- meaning that the average Russian would have to work almost 3 1/2 years to afford a visit. Breakfast for two costs an extra 35,000 rubles ($1,400) and includes Cristal champagne, beluga caviar and filet mignon served behind the bulletproof glass of the dining room windows.

The five-room, 240-square-meter suite has views of the Kremlin, a grand piano and a sauna. As reporters toured the rooms, a modeling couple wrapped in heavy bathrobes reclined on the double bed and leafed through the Financial Times.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Models lounging in the presidential suite, which costs $16,700 per night.

A representative for the hotel refused to say who the first guest in the suite would be.

Downstairs in a room overlooking Tverskaya Ulitsa, a butch male model reclined in a bathtub, smoking a large cigar and sipping cognac. He was modestly covered with foaming bubble bath.

The hotel is among Ritz-Carlton's most expensive in the world. The priciest room in its New York hotel is $12,500 per night, while in Berlin it is $7,500, and in Beijing it is less than $6,000.

The Moscow hotel's presidential suite also costs more than the top rooms at rivals Marriott Aurora (70,000 rubles), the National Hotel (81,000 rubles), the Hotel Baltschug Kempinski (213,000 rubles) and the Hyatt Ararat (305,000 rubles).

Cooper said the hotel was primarily aimed at foreign tourists and businessmen. He said he expected interest from within Russia to grow.

In the days leading up to the opening, the hotel was receiving 650 booking inquiries per day, said Oliver Eller, the hotel's German general manager.

Away from the sparkling Portuguese marble and crystal chandeliers, however, workmen were still scrambling to meet the deadline less than 48 hours before the opening Sunday. On the third floor, doors and locks were still being fitted, bathrooms remained to be tiled, faucets installed, skirting boards plastered and beds put together. In one corner, two electrical saws stood idle, surrounded by sawdust.

Up on the fifth floor, a workman was busy trying to finish the paint job and wiring the electricity supply in one of the rooms.

"The boss said that we had to have it done by tomorrow," he said, shrugging. "We will try."

Vladimir Filonov / MT
A Ritz-Carlton employee standing outside the main entrance to the hotel.
Behind him two more workmen stood perched on ladders in the corridor connecting the telephone lines to the rooms.

As of Monday, most of the guest rooms were finished, but final touches were being made on the third and fifth floors, said Ted Sullivan, managing director of the hotel's owners and developers, Kazakh firm Capital Partners. He put any delays down to the standards demanded by the Ritz-Carlton group.

Eller said, however, that the spa would not be up and running until toward the end of the year.

The glamour of the Ritz-Carlton is a far cry from what it replaced at the site. In 2002, demolishers pulled down the grim, gray concrete of the notorious Soviet-era Intourist hotel, which architects had long complained spoiled the city's downtown skyline. Two years later, Capital Partners acquired the rights to the site from Red Square Development, a company established by the previously unknown firm French Superior Ventures, which won a tender to develop the site in 1999 for just $20 million.

Capital Partners, a development company backed up by powerful Kazakh banks, signed up the Ritz-Carlton group to manage the hotel in May 2005, after initial speculation that the Hilton Group would be brought onboard.

Since then, projected opening dates have been postponed repeatedly, and most recently a March 1 date was moved to July 1, just at the start of Moscow's summer downturn.

The hotel's long road to completion is emblematic of the challenges encountered in Moscow's hotel sector, said Stephane Meyrat, associate director of the valuation and consulting department at Colliers International. "After seeing this hotel taking quite a long time to realize, it seems like opening delays are a recurring theme and it is a factor to consider for developers," Meyrat said.

Other hotels, including the Marriott Courtyard, had similarly seen delays in opening, Meyrat said.

Despite the perceived difficulties of working in Russia, Eller was adamant that opening a hotel in Moscow was no more difficult than anywhere else in the world. "There is no big difference. You have challenges everywhere, you have construction challenges and staffing issues, problems with interior design or you might have supply issues, but you have them everywhere," he said.

Eller said finding suitable staff had not presented a problem. "For just over 400 jobs we had 9,000 applicants," he said, with most of the applicants coming from Moscow. In the days leading up to the opening, trainers from Ritz-Carlton hotels around the world were jetted in to prepare the staff.

Asked whether Moscow, notorious for its shortage of affordable hotel rooms, needed another luxury hotel, Darrell Stanaford, managing director of CB Richard Ellis Noble Gibbons, said the Ritz-Carlton was setting a new standard. "It is the right kind of hotel in the right location for the elite from business, government and the entertainment industry," he said.

Eller said the hotel could only offer so much. Foreign businessmen, he said, needed to keep in mind the traffic jams and other infrastructure difficulties involved in visiting Moscow. "We will tell a businessman that it may take you three hours to get to the airport," Eller said. "It is up for them to decide if they come.

"We do not have a Ritz-Carlton helicopter yet, but we are working on it," he added, laughing.