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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 January 2007, 13:45 GMT
Venice tourism squeezes out residents
By David Willey
BBC News, Venice, Italy

A brand new 385-bed luxury hotel is to open in June in Venice.

It will be the Italian city's biggest hotel, and it already dwarfs all previous palatial accommodation provided for the well-heeled tourist.

The Stucky building before restoration
The neo-Gothic mill was once an eyesore on the Venice skyline
None of the ancient palaces along the Grand Canal now being converted into hotels can boast as many rooms.

The new hotel will have its own private motor boat shuttle to ferry clients to and from their arrival point in Venice, and lies only a five-minute boat ride across the lagoon from Saint Mark's Square.

The Molino Stucky Hilton has been converted from an abandoned flour mill built by a Swiss entrepreneur at the end of the 19th Century.

Part of the once prosperous mill was gutted by fire in 2003.

For years the 11-storey neo-Gothic building had been regarded as an architectural eyesore on the waterline of the Giudecca, the largest of the islands in the lagoon city, which lies opposite the entrance to the Grand Canal.

Venice transformed

In its heyday the Stucky was a state-of-the-art industrial mill equipped with electricity, mechanical elevators and bucket hoists.

Now its owners will try to attract top-end foreign tourists willing to fork out a minimum of $600 (462 euros, 304) a night for a double room.

The presidential suite on the roof with its own swimming pool will cost $4,000 a night.

The Stucky building
The former flour mill will be Venice's biggest hotel
A former pasta factory in the sprawling Stucky complex has been converted into a ballroom and conference centre.

The owners, Acqua Marcia, are proud to have saved the building.

"We have not just rescued a piece of the city's past, but also provided Venice's tourist industry with one of its biggest and most up-to-date hotel complexes," says Francesco Caltagirone, company chairman.

Venice's booming tourist trade has transformed the city during the past 20 years.

The population has dwindled by more than half, from 140,000 to 60,000. Former residents have voted with their feet and left for cheaper and more convenient housing on the mainland in and around the industrial city of Mestre.

The minimum price of a two-bedroom apartment in Venice has now risen to over $1m.

This entitles you to the dubious privilege every winter of having to enter and leave your house or apartment wearing rubber boots.

Temporary raised walkways are provided by the city authorities to allow residents and visitors to remain above the waters of the Adriatic Sea that now inundate the city at high tide with increasing frequency because of global warming.

'Hit-and-run' tourists

According to deputy mayor Michele Vianello, Venice's curious current population mix is as follows: 60,000 permanent residents, 60,000 day visitors (tourists and commuters from the mainland, including waiters and shop assistants to serve the tourist hordes), and 20,000 university students.

"What we need is not more housing for the poor, but mortgage subsidies for middle-class families who are being driven out of the city by high tourist prices," he says.

A canal in Venice
What we need is not more housing for the poor, but mortgage subsidies for middle-class families
Michele Vianello
Venice deputy mayor

The sustained growth of high-end boutique tourism at the beginning of the new millennium has been more than matched by runaway growth at the lower end of the market.

Tens of thousands of day visitors clog the vaporetti, the water buses that ply up and down the Grand Canal. They spend relatively little cash, often eating sandwiches they have brought with them.

The "hit-and-run" day tourists contribute little to the local economy and the authorities recently imposed a hefty $500 tax on tourist buses that park while their passengers try to see the sights of Venice in a few hours.

At night Venice sometimes resembles an empty museum, a ghost town.

After 2300, when the day trippers have all left and the restaurants and bars are closed, the waterways and calles - narrow streets that intersect the islands upon which Venice is built - are almost deserted.

Tomorrow another 60,000 people will arrive - and depart.

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