Top hospitality companies are keen to invest in converting the Town Hall building in Old Delhi into a heritage hotel.
This even as the Delhi government is yet to take a final call on turning the 145-year-old colonial structure, located close to Red Fort, into a hotel.
Conceived by the British after the 1857 rebellion and completed in 1866, Town Hall housed the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) headquarters for decades. It is one of the biggest landmarks of the walled city — which is a favourite destination of foreign tourists — and a symbol of British grandeur and history.
“Yes, they have shown a keen interest in this,” said Delhi Chief Secretary Rakesh Mehta. Mehta said Taj Hotels, WelcomHeritage and the Neemrana group were among those that had shown a high level of interest in the project.
“Several other big hotel chains have also sent us feelers,” he said.
Senior industry representatives confirmed that big names in the hospitality sector were interested. But, questionnaires sent to the Taj group (Tatas), WelcomHeritage (ITC) and the Neemrana group (run by Aman Nath and Francis Wacziarg) remained unanswered. All three have a strong presence in the heritage hotel space.
An MCD official who looks after renovation projects said the government would soon engage consultants to work out the modalities.
Mehta, however, said, “One should not rush into taking a decision on historic buildings such as this one.” He said a public debate should be organised, based on a background paper on the subject.
“I am sure there are hundreds of people with hundreds of ideas. Let these ideas be handed over to the consultants,” he added.
“As far as the Town Hall is concerned, there is a debate whether it should become a heritage hotel, a city museum or a theatre. Ultimately, the citizens of Delhi will take a call.”
But experts say a hotel is the most likely choice. Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit is of the view that the entire Delhi showcases heritage and there is no need to have a separate museum. And, there may not be too many takers for a theatre.
Asked if the government was comfortable with companies funding restoration or conversion of heritage properties like Town Hall, Mehta said, “Most of these properties require a lot of investment. So, I think it is better to get companies into it.”
The private sector was doing a lot of work in this area in Mumbai, he said. “Why can’t Delhi do the same?”
In Mumbai, the Tatas, ICICI Bank, HSBC and Standard Chartered Bank have spent a lot of money for restoration of heritage sites. The Tatas, for instance, got the Army and Navy Building (in the Kala Ghoda district of Mumbai) restored. It now houses some Tata offices and stores.
Companies have played a role in conservation of heritage sites in other parts of the country too. For instance, in 2001, the Tata group adopted Taj Mahal for upkeep. The Oberoi group of hotels, along with the Indo-British Anniversary Trust and the Aga Khan Foundation, helped restore Humayun’s Tomb and Chennai-based Sterling group backed the project for restoration of Madurai’s Meenakshi temple.