ROME—Money may not buy happiness, but it does by property, and Bill Gates, who was recently rebuffed in his bid to buy the historic Danieli hotel in Venice has now settled on one of the best addresses in Rome to build the city’s first six-star hotel, according to purchase records filed with Rome’s City Hall.
The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts group that Gates controls through Cascade Investment LLC, along with billionaire Saudi investor Al Waleed bin Talal Al Saud, have put down a $21 million down payment of the $170 million price tag on the Palazzo Marini. This is a 17th-century palazzo comprising four separate blocks that takes up the entire side of Piazza San Silvestro in central Rome. It is just a few blocks from the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and the Via Condotti, the home of Made in Italy luxury designer stores including Gucci, Tods Shoes and Prada. The hotel will also serve as a wakeup call to the area’s staple historic-center celebrity haunts like the Hassler and Hotel de Russie, which have to do little to keep a certain level of clientele coming back given the lack of competition. New luxury digs will surely liven up the high-end tourism market.
The palazzo is a genuine fixer-upper. A few years ago, the street-level floor was converted into a pop-up Ikea shop selling mostly cheap kitchenware to urban dwellers who can’t get to the bigger stores in the suburbs. Its upper floors host the canteen for the lawmakers of Italy’s lower house of parliament, which is across a few cobbled streets. The contract has been the subject of heated debate over rental charges, which leaders of Italy’s Radical and Communist parties insist are more than 12 times the going rate for the area.
The palazzo, which was started but not finished by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1650, was previously home to half a dozen noble princesses before Pope Innocent XII took it over, placing the Pontifical Tribunal there. It has, over the centuries, been renovated and rebuilt countless times. Views from the rooftop would—assuming it would be converted into a bar—afford a panoramic view of the city skyline, including St. Peter‘s, the Spanish Steps, and the lush Villa Borghese gardens nearby.
The area, which has the city’s fair share of mid-range hotels, recently welcomed a massive Apple showroom—the first of its kind in central Rome, which will be visible from nearly all of the rooms of the Microsoft founder’s future hotel.
Before the Four Seasons deal, the palazzo was dumped in a fire sale to a fund managed by Idea Fimit in a $800 million package of properties unloaded by real estate developer Sergio Scarpellini after he was arrested in 2016 for allegedly bribing then mayor Virginia Raggi. His case remains in the labyrinth of Italy’s beleaguered justice system, but he holds many shares in the fund and will be handsomely rewarded by the sale. The property was an object of interest for a number of developers prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which stalled Rome’s tourist sector and led to the closure of more than 410 hotels in the city. Gates and his firm were said to be interested in it then, and made good on the deal last week by signing the official intent to buy, filing papers at City Hall.
The purchase papers, which are on the public record but only accessible in person, list a $120 million renovation budget which is expected to flip the massive building into a 100-room luxury hotel. The treeless and largely barren piazza it shares is home to Rome’s oldest post office and a number of coffee bars. The square is now also listed for an upcoming renovation likely promised by the city as an incentive. At the moment the piazza is an e-scooter parking lot and a major bus stop for the city’s public transit system.
The project is listed as Palazzo Marini 3 and Palazzo Marini 4, which a developer with knowledge of the plans told The Daily Beast likely includes a space for a conference center and other amenities. A recent bid tender suggests that plans may be in the works for a massive spa and gym, of which there are very few in the center of Rome.
Gates’ hotel firm has also been working to secure property close to the Vatican in the Palazzo Rovere on the storied via della Conciliazione that leads from the Tiber River to St. Peter’s Square, but the Vatican scoffed at having a luxury hotel so close to its homeless facilities. It is unclear if Gates or Four Seasons is still working on a deal for that property. The company has hotels in Milan, Florence, Taormina in Sicily and now, it seems, Rome. They are also opening a luxury seaside hotel in the southern region of Puglia and are rumored to still be working on acquiring or at least running the Hotel Danieli in Venice.