Benetton launches megastore on Venice's Grand Canal

Clothing group buys Renaissance building, ready to restore

Benetton launches megastore on Venice's Grand Canal

Venice, March 12 - After more than a year and a half of wait, strategy meetings and even some saber rattling by opposing forces, the project to turn Venice's historic 'Fontego dei Tedeschi' into a megastore has been given the definitive green light. 'We will see an important part of the city reborn,' Venice Mayor Giorgio Orsoni said on Tuesday. Italian clothing retailer Benetton bought the Renaissance building at the foot of the Rialto bridge for 53-million euros in 2008 and plans to sink millions more into its restoration. The Fondaco dei Tedeschi (Fontego in Venetian dialect) was built in the early 13th century and then rebuilt three centuries later following a fire to provide a headquarters and limited living quarters for the city's Germanic merchants. The project received the go-ahead from the city council on Tuesday amid heated debate and protests from representatives of former comedian Beppe Grillo's 5-Star Movemnet (M5S) and environmentalists concerned about the preservation of Venice's cultural heritage. The agreement between the city council and Benetton Group contemplates a property-use change that foresees the transfer of six million euros from the international clothing retailer to the city coffers. Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas has been commissioned by Benetton to restore the building and remodel the interior. His plans will incorporate a shopping centre and public space inside of the structure's 10,000 square meters. 'Fontego' will reserve spaces for the community, including a large inner courtyard and fourth-floor lounge. The project will also create employment in a country buckling under a long-running economic crisis. Permission to begin construction that should kick-off in the coming months was given after changes to the initial plans, including the elimination of a large panoramic terrace on the Grand Canal that was replaced with a simple 'belvedere' along the perimeter of the roof and the reduction of an escalator in the building's courtyard that was also moved. The project will bring 'great advantages to Venice,' Orsini said.

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