Monaco: Seven buildings set to change the face of Casino Square despite protests
Axe falls on iconic Sporting d’Hiver
Love it or hate it, the destruction of the Art Deco Sporting d'Hiver on Casino Square is like a front tooth extraction: it strikes at the very heart and public face of Monte-Carlo's heritage - and particularly when the replacement comprises a nest of glass-fronted buildings, the whole higher and wider than the existing one.
And yet it was hard not to be seduced by the project unveiled at a packed press conference in January, led by a bullish Jean-Luc Biamonti, Chairman of the SBM's Board of Directors. The SBM (Société des Bains de Mer) owns the building, and ever since it received permission from the Prince's government in 2008 to redevelop the site, heated discussions about its future have animated many a party.
All has now been revealed, with Mr Biamonti placing the project firmly in the realms of the government's drive to increase Monaco's "attractiveness" to wealthy foreigners.
The existing building will be pulled down and replaced by no less than seven blocks, with four seven-storey buildings fronting Casino Gardens in line with the Hôtel de Paris, and behind them three (7, 9 and 12 storey-high) buildings, creating a sweeping curve up to the 26-floor Sun Tower.
Rooftop gardens, walkways between all buildings, and a tree-lined alley connecting ave des Beaux-Arts to the gardens above Casino Square give a sense of permeability. The whole will provide a mix of boutiques on the ground floor, cafés with terraces, 36 high-end apartments on the top floors, offices, conference rooms, an exhibition hall and 500 parking spaces.
In a nod to the critics, the current building's loveliest room, the Salle des Arts, will be recreated "to conserve the Sporting’s architectural memory" to the extent that pillars and mouldings will be kept for the new project.
The architects are London-based Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (London's Millennium Dome and Georges-Pompidou Centre, Paris). They were keen to stress that it was about "opening up the site and reconnecting the various parts of the Monte-Carlo district" and flexibility. Instead of one solid block there will be a permeable block of seven. "This is not a fortress for rich people" stressed Associate Davide Costa.
Where’s the romance?
Critics (and there are many) say the Sporting d'Hiver is part of Monaco's heritage and the only Art Deco example of its kind in Europe - although in truth all Art Deco buildings are inherently "unique".
Molly Brown, a journalist and Monaco resident for 22 years, has been fighting a rear-guard action since 2008: "If the SBM restored it (it's not even been cleaned since it was built), the interior would be a perfect site for a modern art museum, to include the fabulous costumes and memorabilia from Les Ballets Russes, or to house a quality emporium like Harrods," she argues. “The Chinese tourists they hope to lure to Monaco would come because of its history, romance and glamour."
On dust and noise
A big concern is the impact a massive project on Casino Square will have on Monaco as a destination. And where will the boutiques go? It’s hard to imagine the likes of Celine, Yves St Laurent or Chanel hunkering down under makeshift pavilions in Casino Gardens for four years, as has been suggested.
Mr Biamonti insists everything will be done to minimise disruption (no work during the Grand Prix or in July and August), and he is confident big name luxury brands like Vuitton, Hermès, and Gucci will snap up the space in the "gallery" making it "unique in Europe" as a shopping destination.
As for the cinema, it's destined to be part of a future revamp of the Fontvieille centre (on the other side of the Rock). Provisionally it could be moved to the Salle du Canton, Grimaldi Forum or the Rock’s outdoor venue.
It was no surprise to see so many government figures at the conference (the State is a majority shareholder of the SBM), notably the Minister of State Michel Roger. More surprising, and a relief to the SBM, is the positive reaction of the Conseil National (elected parliament defending Monegasques’ interests) which has been "pleasantly surprised" by the project.
Yet there is a feeling that we've been down this road before. Flagship projects (the land extension at Portier, a bigger new hospital) unveiled in a blaze of publicity, with fantastic computer-generated images beckoning residents on to a brand new future, only for them to be withdrawn or downgraded. Four years is a long time in this economically volatile climate and like everywhere in Europe Monaco is having to tighten its belt. Watch this space!
President of the Conseil National, Jean-François Robillon from the UDM party (Union des Monégasques), spoke to The Riviera Times and sent us this statement in which the project is described as economically relevant, architecturally innovative and a pleasant surprise.
“The UDM cannot but welcome the successful outcome of an ambitious project, both for the SBM and the attractiveness of Monte-Carlo, from a hotel, tourism and commercial point of view.For the last two years, our elected representatives have repeatedly stood up for profitable investments in the Principality. With such a complex dossier, we will have the chance to return to it, notably when it comes to voting on a legal decision to release a parcel of public land in this district [Monte-Carlo], required to carry out this project."