MOSCOW - Moscow on Thursday sold off for US$277 million its landmark Hotel Metropol near the Kremlin, an iconic Art Nouveau building where Lenin once gave speeches and stars like Michael Jackson have stayed.
Starting at 8.7 billion rubles (US$270 million), the auction rapidly ended after just two bids with the winner being a Russian subsidiary of the current operator, which is linked to the country's largest hotel chain.
No international chains were among the three participants in the auction.
The winner, a company called Okhotny Ryad Deluxe, is a subsidiary of the current operator of the hotel, spokeswoman for Moscow's property department Oksana Vaghina told AFP.
The operating company, also called Metropol, is controlled by the chairman of the board of Azimut Hotels, Russia's largest hotel chain, Alexander Klyanchin, the Interfax news agency said.
General director of Metropol Yevgeny Ustenko told journalists he would ensure that the establishment, just a short walk from the Red Square, is "the best hotel in Moscow".
Asked whether the hotel would become part of the Azimut chain, which specialises in business travellers, he said, "I can't tell you yet, probably not."
The high-end auction was part of a drive to privatise thousands of publicly-owned non-residential properties in Moscow, which began in 2004.
The selling price came as a surprise after experts had predicted it would be at least a third as much again as the start price.
The auction sold off the hotel building measuring almost 40,000 square metres (430,000 square feet) and its land.
The five-star hotel, one of Moscow's most ornate buildings, was designed by British architect William Walcot and built from 1899 to 1905 on the commission of one of Russia's richest businessmen and patron of the arts, Savva Mamontov.
Its facade is decorated with a ceramic panel by Russian artist Mikhail Vrubel called the "Princess of Dreams" and bas-reliefs depicting the four seasons.
The auction did not include the hotel's moveable contents, which the hotel's website lists as hundreds of antiques, from Meissen porcelain to hardwood furniture and paintings, which will still belong to the state.
Lenin often gave speeches from a balcony in one of the restaurants of the hotel, then the largest in Russia, after it was taken over by the Bolshevik authorities following the 1917 revolution.
The hotel was then managed by the Intourist travel agency during the Soviet era. It underwent a major refit of its 362 rooms in 1991, becoming the country's first five-star hotel.
Among those who have stayed there are singers such as Michael Jackson and Montserrat Caballe, film stars Marlene Dietrich and Arnold Schwarzenegger and world leaders including former French president Jacques Chirac.
The building is listed as a historic monument of national significance, meaning that the new owner cannot destroy its period features in any restoration work.
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