'Hotel of Doom' comes back to life

'Hotel of Doom' comes back to life

The Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang. REUTERS

But few expect the North will ever finish construction of its 105-storey Ryugyong Hotel, started in 1987 and halted for 16 years because it could have bankrupted the destitute state.

“The hotel does not look as shoddy as it once did, probably because of the reflective glass,” said a member of a civic group in South Korea that recently returned from a visit to the North. The 330-metre tall hotel dominating the Pyongyang skyline consists of three wings rising at 75 degree angles capped by several floors arranged in rings supposed to hold five revolving restaurants and an observation deck.
Foreign residents of Pyongyang contacted in Seoul said Egypt’s Orascom group began renovations last year.

The peak of the 3,000-room hotel, in a country that permits few foreigners to visit, is encircled in new rings of shiny steel. Mirrored glass has yet to be affixed to the other sides of the muddish-grey concrete structure, foreigner visitors said.
Analysts said the North was likely sprucing up the Ryugyong’s facade as part of a campaign to try to turn the state into a “great and prosperous nation” by 2012.
The communist North started construction in a suspected fit of jealousy at South Korea, which was about to host the 1988 Summer Olympics and show off to the world the success of its rapidly developing economy. But by 1992, work was halted. The North’s main benefactor, the Soviet Union, had dissolved the previous year and funding for the hotel dried up.  As the North’s economy took a deeper turn for the worse in the 1990s, the empty shell became a symbol of the country’s failure, earning the nicknames “Hotel of Doom” and “Phantom Hotel”.

For a time, the North airbrushed images of the Ryugyong Hotel from photographs.
Architects said there were questions raised about whether the hotel, which has never opened for guests, was structurally sound and a few believed completing the building could cause it to collapse.
Estimates published in South Korean have put the costs of completing the hotel and making it structurally sound at as $2 billion, more than 10 percent of the North’s yearly gross domestic product.