|City sells its Renaissance buildings to keep afloat|
THE TIMES, 08-NOV-2005
FOR sale: 13 Renaissance-era palazzi and other historic buildings in the heart of Venice.
The vendor? The Venetian city council, which is practically broke and hopes to raise hundreds of millions of euros from the auction. It is hard to believe that Venice, which receives 15 million visitors a year, could be so hard up, but Massimo Cacciari, the Mayor, acknowledged: "We haven't got a cent."
Most of the visitors are day trippers who spend little, he said. Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Government in Rome has cut contributions to regional and local authorities. Venice, once a proud and rich republic, consequently faces a budget shortfall of € 40 million (£ 27 million) next year and has little choice but sell off some family jewels.
The properties, to be auctioned in January, include Palazzo Nani, which is valued at € 35 million. It dates from the first half of the 16th century, fronts on to the Rio di Cannaregio, a picturesque canal that flows into the Grand Canal, and is described as "richly decorated with stucco work and Renaissance frescoes".
Near by, on the same canal, is Palazzo Bonfadini, formerly used by the council refuse collection department but said to be in good condition. It has a provisional price tag of € 20 million.
The Palazzo Zaguri, a late-14th-century masterpiece of Venetian Gothic, on Campo San Maurizio near the Grand Canal, is valued at €20 million.
Those looking for a cheaper option may want to bid for the recently renovated 600sq m Palazzo Foscari Contarini, on the Grand Canal next to the Church of San Simeon by the Ponte degli Scalzi (€ 5 million), or the five-storey Palazzo Costa, on Campo Santa Fosca (€ 12 million).
The mayor said that he was even considering adding Venice's historic municipal casino, housed in Ca' Vendramin Calergi on the Grand Canal, to the list.
A council spokesman said that offers were pouring in. He said: "We have even had approaches from international property companies interested in buying the entire portfolio ... There is huge interest and commercial appetite in a city where property prices are at a premium."
The council had initially assessed the value of the properties for sale at €34 million but realised that it had undervalued them when a set of offices behind St Mark's Square unexpectedly fetched € 5 million in March. "We are trying to obtain the absolute maximum value we can," Mara Rumiz, the head of the council's heritage department, said.
Luigi Bassetto, the official in charge of the sale, said that "in the end the market will determine the price". He noted that some of the properties had been used as council offices, schools and warehouses. Some were in a "dilapidated or precarious state" and would need "considerable repair and restructuring". Council officials said that there would be little difficulty granting "change of use" permits for converting offices into homes.
They added that Venice also needed funds for its ambitious programme of anti-flood and anti-pollution measures, including a controversial floating flood barrier, scheduled to be completed by 2011. The barrier, codenamed Moses and budgeted at €4.5 billion, is funded by central government and private firms but also by Venice and the Veneto region.