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PARIS — As Bernard Arnault often says: Luxury takes time.
That’s certainly the case for his Right Bank retail jewel Samaritaine, which is now eyeing an opening in mid-2016, some 11 years after the department store was forced to close because it was deemed a safety hazard.
Yet it’s easy to see why Samaritaine president Jean-Jacques Guiony brims with excitement about the multiuse project, which will also incorporate a luxurious Cheval Blanc hotel.
During a tour of the site on Friday, Guiony showed off the views of the Seine River and Paris monuments future hotel guests will enjoy, and the glass-domed area under one courtyard, which is ringed by an Art Nouveau mural depicting peacocks and an intricate band of ironwork incorporating bunches of grapes.
A century ago, merchants profited from the sun-drenched space to display hats and fine apparel. The next-generation Samaritaine will use it to house restaurants in order to help lure the surging pedestrian traffic on Rue de Rivoli to explore the entire block-long complex.
Guiony, who is also chief financial officer of Samaritaine’s parent LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, acknowledged that the complex site, an agglomeration of buildings straddling several centuries and architectural styles, presented multiple challenges and encountered numerous administrative snags.
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When construction work finally begins, likely in mid-2013, the building fronting Rivoli is to be demolished, with Japanese architecture firm SANAA plotting an ultramodern facade of undulating glass that will invite shoppers to traverse through three courtyards and discover some 280,000 square feet of retail space.
Other parts of the building are landmarked, from the Art Deco facade and signs facing the river, to the intricate railings in the Art Nouveau sections, framed by hulking steel beams incorporating delicate curlicues rendered in plaster.
Guiony pointed out that the floors were originally composed of glass bricks to funnel sunshine down to lower levels at a time when artificial lighting was poor. While most will be removed for safety reasons related to fire risks, “it’s a very important element of the building that we will keep to some extent,” he noted.
The project also spans 95 units of affordable housing, a day care center for 60 children, and 215,000 square feet of offices.
At a time of intense one-upmanship for Paris hotels, the future Cheval Blanc promises to dazzle, with most of its 80 rooms and suites offering spectacular views of Paris landmarks. The seventh floor, boasting high ceilings and edged with balconies, is to be dedicated to the hotel restaurants and bars. Architect Edouard François has been contracted to design the hotel.
The Samaritaine department store — a stone’s throw from the Louvre museum — was founded in 1870, with LVMH acquiring a majority stake in 2000. The new project is expected to create some 2,400 jobs.