W HEN restored as pictured right, The Royal Hotel will be more than just a grand place to stay.
"It will be a six-star hotel!" declared Richard Helfer, chief executive officer of Raffles International, the company that signed a $25 million agreement with the Royal Government on Oct 25 to redevelop the historic building with a 60 year lease.
"The Royal will be a view back into time," said Helfer. He described it as interactive, meaning people will come to experience it whether they were staying there or not.
The deal was signed in the name of Raffles Royal Hotel Pte Ltd, a Cambodian subsidiary of the Singaporean company DBS Land, which also owns Raffles Hotel.
"It is a heritage property and Cambodians should feel it's theirs. They must be at home with it. They will come here to dine. It will be a quality expression of Cambodia's people and history."
Raffles International refurbishes legendary hotels like the 107-year-old Raffles, a symbol for "fables of the exotic East," and the 130-year-old Galle Face in Sri Lanka. The hotels are turned into tourist centers with shops, restaurants, museums, theaters, gardens, health clubs and business facilities.
The Royal's status as a historic landmark means it will not compete with modern equivalents, said Helfer.
Like Raffles in Singapore, The Royal will aim to attract both business and tourist clientele. "It will be fifty-fifty," said Helfer.
He said it would not be as expensive as Raffles, which has 104 suites, each with period furnishings, ranging fromUS$450 to US$4,000 a night.
Helfer did not know at this stage how much rooms would cost when the first of two phases of redevelopment of the 1920s building is completed in early 1998. "It depends on the market," he said.
A full-time curator, Gretchen Liu, is currently in London researching archives and period furniture to ensure that every detail of The Royal will be in keeping with its heyday, when it was the number one hotel in Phnom Penh.
In Paris she will visit two museums to find old photographs and seek details of weddings, parties and other events that took place, to help recreate the ambiance.
"We go back architecturally to its peak," Helfer explained, "then we look forward."
At Raffles, a strong period atmosphere is combined with state-of-the-art luxury.
The Royal's second heyday was when it was used by the foreign press corps during the 1970s.
During the Khmer Rouge regime the hotel was renamed the Samaki ("friendship") and used as a garrison for Pol Pot's Chinese advisers.
Helfer said this period would not be highlighted as much as the 1920s and 30s eras.
Ghosts rumored to haunt the dusty corridors of the hotel, keeping company with the bats, will undoubtedly vanish, said Helfer, when the roof is removed and replaced.
"As soon as sunshine comes in, all the bad ghosts will go," he said with a smile. "Only the good ones will remain."
Prince Norodom Ranarridh, attending the signing ceremony at the Cambodiana, said: "This is the first signing ceremony since the investment law has been passed, and is not a Memorandum of Understanding, but a contract."
He examined six drawings of the proposed development, prepared by Raffles International, which has twice received the Asean award for conservation of its Singapore hotel.
Veng Sereyvuth, Minister of Tourism, said: "The object of the project is to preserve the original character and restore the past grandeur of the The Royal."
The Royal has 54 rooms but it will be enlarged to 209 rooms including a business center, four restaurants, a ballroom and boutiques. "No building will be taller than the original," said Helfer.
Work on the hotel is not expected to begin until the third quarter of next year.
Two previous agreements between the government and construction companies to renovate The Royal fell through.
They were with the French firm Feal and the Thai-owned Eastern Dragon Group.