Secretive building will open to guests for $700 a night
The old headquarters of the central government's former de facto embassy in Hong Kong is to be turned into a four-star hotel.
For $700 a night, guests can stay in one of the city's most mysterious buildings.
Once the scene of street protests and hunger strikes, it will be more attractive to horse-racing fans and gamblers when it reopens this year as the Cosmopolitan Hotel, with luxury rooms overlooking Happy Valley racecourse.
The 23-storey building at 387 Queen's Road East was Xinhua's home for more than 20 years. It has been vacant since the agency's Hong Kong branch moved to Sheung Wan two years ago.
Xinhua staff apparently asked estate agents to exclude potential British buyers to avoid political embarrassment.
'Xinhua was quite selective in picking buyers and price was not their primary consideration,' one source said. 'You can imagine how odd it would be if the building was bought by a company like Swire or Hong Kong Land.'
Far East Consortium International bought the building, which occupies 12,000 sq ft, last September for about $240 million. The company began a $100 million renovation in February. Work is expected to be completed by October or November.
Far East's project manager, Eddie Leung Yu-cheung, said the building's history would be a selling point for the 454-room hotel.
He said the company planned to showcase photographs in the lobby and restaurant, such as those featuring former Xinhua director Xu Jiatun receiving foreign leaders inside the building, or newspaper cuttings on important events in the agency's history.
But fixtures such as the national emblems that adorned the reception and main doors were removed by departing Xinhua staff.
'In the past, people could only protest outside Xinhua offices,' Mr Leung said. 'We think it will attract some local residents who are curious about Xinhua history to dine at the hotel's eating outlets.'
But pictures of sensitive events - such as those featuring Mr Xu comforting students who staged a hunger strike outside the building in support of the pro-democracy movement in Beijing in 1989 - may not go on show. Mr Xu shocked Beijing leaders in 1990 when he fled to the United States.
'Our company has maintained good relations with the Chinese government and we don't want to make the interior design too sensitive,' Mr Leung said.
'After all, the hotel is not a history museum.'
Guests also will be unable to stay in Mr Xu's former offices.
'We can't locate which room was occupied by the director of the Xinhua office,' Mr Leung said.