VENICE — Save for the 10 days a year when it is bathed in the spotlight of the Venice International Film Festival, the Lido of this lagoon city is distinctly overshadowed by the fragile grandeur of its historic center.
Developers are looking to revive the legendary Lido in Venice.
A patchwork of abandoned fields and half-finished construction can be seen from the main road. Scores of charmless postwar apartment blocks fairly smother the Art Nouveau hotels and villas that mushroomed here nearly 100 years ago, when this narrow sandbar between Venice and the Adriatic still was known as the “Isola d’Oro,” the Golden Island.
That golden era is what EstCapital SGR, a real estate fund management company based in Padova, Italy, is hoping to revive through its multimillion-dollar investment in several of the Lido’s most prestigious assets.
“There is a gap between what the Lido could be and what it became,” said Gianfranco Mossetto, EstCapital’s co-founder and chairman. The group’s investment, he added, hopes to “initiate a progressive recovery.”
Two years ago, the group bought two Lido landmarks — the 198-room Hotel Excelsior and the 184-room Hôtel Des Bains — as part of a €300 million, or $405 million, venture to transform them into high-end hospitality and housing.
Scaffolding now covers the facade of the Hôtel Des Bains, where Thomas Mann set his 1912 classic, “Death in Venice.” It is scheduled to reopen in 2012, operating as a hotel with 19 suites and 60 full-service freehold ownership apartments, which will go on sale in October at what Mr. Mossetto called “Grand Canal prices.”
(Prices are not public yet, but Gianluigi Fusato of the real estate agency Gabetti in Venice estimated that Grand Canal homes can sell from €10,000 to €16,000 per square meter. )
The apartments will have access to hotel services, like day and night porters and personal concierges, along with options like the use of the hotel chef for special occasions.
Serviced apartments on “the highest end on the hospitality scale” are a novelty in Italy, Mr. Mossetto added, something he expects will increase their appeal.
Some analysts see the mixed-use development as fitting into a global trend. Tourism in general has seen a “growing demand for extended stays” in various forms, including timeshares, residence clubs and ownership, said Marco Malacrida, Italian director for STR Global, which monitors the hotel industry.
“The question is also whether the future owners of these apartments will buy to let, which is a formula that’s been successful” in other parts of the world, he added.
Once the Hôtel Des Bains is complete, renovations will begin to turn the Excelsior into a 170-room hotel, even as the 1,400 beach huts along the Adriatic that also are part of the EstCapital holdings are being remodeled.
It also has spent around €70 million on a Lido area near the historic center of Malamocco to develop Malamocco Bio Island, a luxury wellness center with a hotel and apartments. That project has been approved in principle but work has not begun.
And it is waiting for approval to convert a former public hospital into high-end private residences, a project that includes construction of a hotel and a marina.
On the Lido, some locals complain of having been kept out of the planning process.
“We were never full participants when decisions were made, so we don’t have a full sense of what’s being planned for the Lido,” said Giorgio Vianello, who this year was elected president of the municipality of Lido and Pellestrina, which is separate from Venice’s municipal administration. “This creates some amount of discontent on the Lido amongst residents.”
It’s in everyone’s best interest to “rejuvenate the Lido” and to increase tourism, he said. “That’s why we want to be more involved in what’s happening on our territory.”
Though the investments are the most conspicuous on the Lido in decades, EstCapital is not operating in a vacuum.
A new publicly funded 2,140-seat hall is being built on the seafront for the Venice International Film Festival. It will take over venue duties from the Palazzo del Cinema, built in the 1930s when Count Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata, then president of the Biennale, worked to transform the Lido into the playground of the international jet set.
When it is not a backdrop for the glitterati, it will be used by the Venice Convention Center, which has been trying to push the Lido into a year-round draw.
Real estate analysts say current market trends are on the side of EstCapital. “The market is focusing on social housing and highest-end luxury residences,” said Daniela Percoco, head of real estate for the consulting group Nomisma, which is not working on the EstCapital projects.
Then Venice is an island, or rather a series of islands, which inevitably limits construction and expansion — and affects prices. “The market is a luxury market,” so any investments have to be on the high end, she said. “Exclusive residences have maintained their value because there is always a request, even if the market is in crisis.”
And EstCapital’s projects could be expected to have “a positive impact on local home prices ” in Venice in general, she said. According to studies by Nomisma, prices decreased by 2.4 percent in Venice over the past year, in keeping with the Italian average trend.
Mr. Fusati, of Gabetti, said local real estate agents were “moderately happy” with the current market, though prices have been significantly lower than they were two years ago, “when apartments sold above the market value.” The situation was similar on the Lido, he said, noting that there was a great demand for homes with spacious terraces, “especially on the part of people looking to buy a summer home.”