THERE was a touch of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth when Jasminder Singh’s senior executives held a “bottoming out” ceremony for his new landmark hotel in London’s Leicester Square last Friday (17).
Jasminder himself was on holiday but he left his principal lieutenant, Iype Abraham, commercial development director of the Edwardian Group London, to preside over the event and usher his guests 33 metres down a giant hole in Leicester Square.
For engineers from Arup and McGee, who are involved in putting up the hotel, descending so deep into London clay is all in a day’s work.
But for first timers, going down clutching the sides of a makeshift iron staircase, wearing a hard hat, reflector jacket, protective glasses and heavy boots was scary business. Coming up was even more intimidating.
The £300 million hotel, with 350 rooms, will be eight floors above ground and six below “like an iceberg”, someone said.
While that is scientifically not accurate (an iceberg of the kind that sank the Titanic has only an eighth of its bulk above water), one got the sense of what was meant.
Before the descent, Abraham said that after 40 years in the hotel business, this was the way in which Jasminder Singh, chairman of Edwardian Hotels, was “giving something back” to society.
“We have Jasminder’s daughter and grandchildren here, so these are the next two generations of the same family,” he emphasised. “It was important they are here. They are represented here as the future of Edwardian.”
Abraham continued: “We are investing in one of the world’s great cities to continue our expansion plans, a sign of confidence we are placing in London, especially following our recent Brexit vote. This is the deepest commercial basement in London, perhaps in the UK. This is one of four or five (deepest) in the world. The deepest is Sydney Opera House, which is 37 metres deep.”
The strategic site was acquitted four years ago. “For Jasminder it was a way for him to give back to London because of everything London has done for us – and we have been in London for 40 years,” Abraham reminded his guests.
The new hotel in Leicester Square, adjacent to the Hampshire, which he also owns, would be the 14th in the Edwardian Group. But it will be no ordinary hotel – it is intended to be something akin to an architectural wonder.
What is going on in Leicester Square is certainly an engineering feat of the kind in which Britain once led the world in the 19th century. Each day as the excavators dig deep into the London clay, the soil is removed and taken
away by trucks to a land fill site in Buckinghamshire. There are 400 such journeys every day, which is said to be unprecedented.
Rob Steul, creative director at Edwardian Hotels, commented: “The look and feel of the hotel is an important factor in attracting people. We want to offer a destination, so that when people come to visit this property, they find everything they need here.”
Neil Hooton, associate director at Arup, said: “Building such an ambitious project in a highly-populated and iconic area is an exciting challenge. The structure of the building makes smart use of the space and allows for a huge variety of facilities to feature right in
the heart of London.
“Reaching the bottom of this landmark basement excavation is a key milestone, and we look forward to now laying the building foundations and beginning the build back up to ground and beyond.”
Brian McGee, managing director at McGee, pointed out: “This project stands out not only due to the sheer scale of operating above and below ground, but also because of the ambition to include such a variety of facilities.”
The “bottoming out” ceremony involved placing a time capsule into a hole dug at a depth on 33 metres.
On the outside it read: “Edwardian Hotels London. To celebrate the bottoming out of the deepest hotel basement in London, this time capsule has been produced for Edwardian Hotels
London by the contractor, McGee. Buried at the latest ambitious development by Edwardian Hotels London, in Leicester Square. 17th February 2017. McGee.”
Should the capsule be unearthed centuries from now, possibly by an alien civilisation, it will reveal its secrets – a selection of business cards and project details of the hotel.
One of the project members, Paul Murphy, told Eastern Eye he had added a human touch: “I have put in a picture of my dog Toby”.
Jasminder and his team have worked closely with Westminster Council, which was represented by its deputy leader, Cllr Robert Davis.
Everyone took turns in tossing a scoopful of earth into the hole as the capsule was buried just after 11:20am.
“This new development is a significant contribution in the West End from the Edwardian Group and is a symbol of their continued confidence in the City of Westminster and of London,” said Davis.
He went on: “This confidence in the West End and its ability to weather uncertain times nationally is echoed by the work of the West End Partnership, of which the City Council is a proud partner. The Partnership has launched a 15-year programme of investment to support the continued growth and prosperity in the West End.”
He added: “This development is a welcome addition to Leicester Square, which is the gateway to theatre land and the spiritual home of British cinema and entertainment. Once completed, the complex will help to house, feed and entertain some of the six million visitors that flock to the area each year, as well as creating 400 new jobs.”
He praised Jasminder: “The Edwardian Hotel Group is helping to lead the charge in ensuring that the area remains at the heart of the cultural offer of the West End for years to come.
“On completion in 2019, this foursided island site will be transformed into an impressive 350-bedroom property which will include an underground cinema complex adding to the cinematic legacy that the area is famous for.”
Davis thanked the engineers, architects, designers plus Jasminder and his entire team especially “for undertaking such a significant development in the first place”.