The Guardian: “Qatar wins approval to turn US embassy in London into hotel”

by Joseph McKeown

US Embassy London. Photo by  CGP Grey .

US Embassy London. Photo by CGP Grey.

The US Embassy in London will be turned into a luxury hotel after the Qatari royal family’s property company has won approval from Westminster council. In 2009, the US State Department agreed to sell this historic building—topped by a gilded bald eagle with a wingspan of more than 36 feet and designed by the Finnish-American modernist Eero Saarinen—to Qatari Diar to fund the construction of the new US Embassy in Nine Elms south of the Thames. The current Embassy (soon-to-be-hotel) is located in pricey Grosvenor Square, which has housed the US Embassy since 1938, where during World War II the square was known as Little America as General Eisenhower’s headquarters and other US operations were based there. The nine floors (three underground) of the building—valued at £500m—will include up to 137 hotel rooms, shops, restaurants, and bars.

The Embassy’s move to the new location from Grosvenor Square is a relief to many neighbors and local residents who have protested against the current Embassy’s location because of safety and security concerns. The site historically has been a place for demonstrations and protests over the years, including famously in March 1968, when 10,000 demonstrators protested the Vietnam war, leading to 200 arrests and fifty people treated in the hospital, and, recently, protests against the election of Donald Trump.

The new Embassy, however, opening near Battersea power station in South London is facing construction delays. Originally scheduled to finish in late 2016 during President Obama’s term, the Embassy will not open until after Trump is inaugurated in January. Heightened security checks on workers and materials have delayed the eleven-story cube-shaped building, an anonymous source tells Bloomberg. A spokeswoman for the US Embassy tells Bloomberg via email that these are standard construction delays, and that the project budget includes such a contingency. The Embassy is now scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2017.

In other State Department news, a counterfeit US Embassy was shut down in Ghana after having operated for ten years. The Embassy, with an American flag and photograph of President Obama, was operated by figures in Ghanaian and Turkish organized crime rings as well as a local attorney. It allegedly issued visas, some of them were genuine, as well as false identification documents for a cost of $6,000. Embassy officials, together with Ghanaian police, seized 150 passports from ten countries, including legitimate and counterfeit visas from the US, the Schengen zone, India, and South Africa. A State Department official says that nobody was able to travel to the US on the fake visas.