Bono Wins Right To Renovate Hotel

In this Jan. 19, 2008 file photo, Bono and The Edge of the band U2 are shown at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
AP PHOTO
U2 stars Bono and The Edge won a four-year legal battle Thursday to reshape their old-fashioned Dublin hotel, the Clarence, into a futuristic landmark - a decision that appeared to fly in the face of Ireland's conservative planning laws.

Ireland's planning board approved a $235 million plan produced by British architect Lord Norman Foster to gut and drastically expand the riverside hotel. The new complex would more than triple the number of its rooms to 166 and would feature a massive, floodlit glass roof atrium - dubbed "the flying saucer."

Bono, The Edge and their property developer partner Paddy McKillen said in a statement that the verdict was "great news for Dublin and for Temple Bar in particular." Temple Bar is the neighboring cobblestone-street tourist district packed with pubs and music.

Their myriad opponents said, however, that the decision demonstrated the exceptional political clout wielded by Dublin's most famous musical sons.

"We would obviously condemn the decision. It undermines national legislation on architectural heritage because of the number of protected sites being demolished," said Ian Lumley, an officer with An Taisce, Ireland's heritage-protection organization.

Lumley said Foster's grandiose design was "a very impressively conceived scheme but in the wrong place. This would not be allowed in areas of comparable sensitivity in any other European countries."

The planning authority ordered the developers to preserve the facades of six buildings: the 1930s Art Deco original hotel and five other adjacent Georgian and Victorian properties being swallowed up by the future Clarence. It also ordered that an archeologist be on the construction site at all times.

In their judgment, the planning panel said Foster's envisioned hotel "would provide a building of unique quality and architectural distinction at this quayside location" that would "in time become a significant feature in vistas along the Liffey (River) and would ensure the continued historic hotel use of a signature building."

Conservationists had successfully blocked an earlier, even bigger design for the hotel's redevelopment and fought the scaled-down Foster plans at Dublin City Council in 2007. The Irish government's environment department also opposed the plans, as did a council-hired conservation architect, Claire Hogan.

"Dublin's beauty as a capital and its claim to being one of the greatest of surviving Georgian cities depends on its whole fabric of streetscapes rather than a collection of resounding buildings - the quiet ease of understatement, something rarely found in Europe," she wrote in her 2007 report, which the council overruled.

Bono, The Edge and U2's other members - bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen - are among Ireland's wealthiest residents. In 2006 the band moved its royalties-collection company to Amsterdam, Holland, to maintain the tax-free status of their music profits, even as they have continued to amass a property portfolio in their long-booming homeland.

A Foster-designed U2 Tower has also been approved by planning authorities to become Ireland's tallest building. The planned 400-foot building is to be built by 2012 further east on the River Liffey waterfront in a run-down docklands area. U2's new recording studios will be at the top.