Bono, Edge at centre of Clarence row
NIAMH HORAN A LEADING conservationist has launched a vitriolic attack on U2 rock stars Bono and The Edge accusing them of a "fetish for glamour" in what he calls the "bastardisation" of their landmark Dublin property the Clarence Hotel.
"Unfortunately for its owners, the Clarence Hotel is not a pair of sunglasses or a hat," says Michael Smith, the former head of An Taisce, objecting to their plans to re-develop the iconic Dublin hotel and referring to their recent legal battles with stylist Lola Cashman.
"The common good is not served by allowing the richest people in Ireland to build with the benefit of tax incentives, only to demolish when they get bored," says Smith, who, along with barrister Colm Mac Eochaidh, was responsible for launching the Flood (Mahon) Tribunal and who lives across the river Liffey from the U2 hotel. Mr Smith said he was making the objection as a "neighbour and frequenter" of the hotel.
"The City Council has indulged U2 and Mr Paddy McKillen [their property partner] long enough," he maintains. "The owners clearly still have not found what they are looking for."
In their plans, the owners of the Clarence have applied for permission to demolish an award-winning extension and to put a "sky-catcher", or glass dome, on top of the newly developed hotel - which would alter its current boutique status to five-star hotel.
Smith is not the only one concerned that the planning application may be influenced by the "celebrity names" associated with the development.
"I would ask Dublin City Council to consider the possibility that it is not the architectural quality of the Foster design, or its response to the urban context of the Quays, which are the real selling points of this proposal, but rather the weight of the celebrity names associated with it," says conservation architect Richard McLoughlin in his observation on the plan.
They are just two of the nine groups and individuals, including An Taisce and the Irish Georgian Society, who have objected to the ?150m revamp of the Clarence.
The hotel was originally owned by the four membersof U2 and well-known Dublin trucking millionaire Harry Crosbie. But Larry Mullen, Adam Clayton andMr Crosbie are no longerassociated with the venture.
The Clarence is now owned by U2's Bono and the Edge and the low-key Dublin developer Paddy McKillen, who has substantial property interests in the city. The celebrated London architect firm Foster and Partners have been employed to design the new development.
But it is Mr Smith, who has been involved in manny planning battles in the past - through a company called Lanesford, who has been most voiciferous in his objection.
"The fact that the current owners are not up to running a hotel, having allegedly lost ?12m on their plaything, does not give them the right to demolish it and start again," says Mr Smith.
He also asks: "The building won a conservation award as recently as 2005 from the Royal Insitute of Architects in Ireland (RIAI). So why demolish it?"
Originally built as a hotel in 1852, it was a well-known haunt of country people and parish priests visiting Dublin until it was taken over in 1992 by members of U2. Since then it has become a hit with some of the world's biggest names in the worlds of politics and show business, including former US President Bill Clinton and a whole host of supermodels from Naomi Campbell to Christy Turlington and Kate Moss.
Now the owners plan to demolish the Georgian building and transform the 44-bedroom boutique hotel into a nine-story, 141-bedroom five-star hotel and spa complete with signature restaurant, bar and fresh food market. A key feature of the proposal, however, is the "sky-catcher" atrium, which is said to have been inspired by the sleek shape of a Viking boat.
The new expanded hotel will encompass the former Dollard printing works and four other Georgian buildings on Wellington Quay.
Other objectors include An Taisce, which says the proposal is completely inappropriate for both the protected structures and their historic city-centre location, and the Irish Georgian Society, which believes that the development would dwarf adjoining buildings and dominate the Liffey quays.
When contacted, Foster, the architecture firm responsible for the hotel's proposed development, said they did not wish to make any comment on the matter.