Exemplifying the urban facelift that Addis Abeba is experiencing, a place once known as Five Doors, in Kazanchis area, welcomes the official arrival of its newest neighbour. Radisson Blu Hotel, a chain owned by one of the largest international hotel groups, has opened its doors in time to welcome participants of the AU conference.
These remains of some of the old bars and drug stores, known as the Five Doors, that are seen in the photo above have long been removed and replaced with international hotels, including Radisson Blu.
Five Doors is the old name of the spot where the modern Radisson Blu, an international hotel, rests today. It was so named because of the five tiny bars that stood next to each other. Through those doors entered many people to enjoy the nightlife, in Sidistegna area, Kazanchis. But that was six years ago.
Mulualem Sebehat, 40, who runs Wossen Bar, near Sidistegna, with her siblings, waxed nostalgic about the way the area used to look and feel, although she is not complaining about the new makeover.
“There were a lot of bars and groceries. It used to be the centre of nightlife,” Mulualem recalled, speaking of the area that is now home to a mini-jungle of concrete, steel, and glass, including Radisson Blu, Jupiter, and Intercontinental hotels, as well as the Serbian Embassy, German House, UNICEF, and the Ministry of Industry (MoI).
Radisson Blu recognises its location as being in the heart of town. The area has come a long way.
Had it opened here a decade and a half ago, the hotel would not have been in such good company. Designated as Kebele 30 and 31 back then, the roads in the vicinity were lined with small liquor groceries and bars that not only supplied alcohol but also functioned as a buna bets, the local euphemism for places of disrepute.
Although the existence of the UNECA, the Serbian Embassy, and La Fontaine Kindergarten, gave the place some sort of upgrade, the shabby houses behind the bars and the groceries and their residents who lived a hand-to-mouth existence, showed that the place was far from the kind of tourist and commercial centre it is becoming now.
Data was not readily available at the Kirkos District and Wereda 8 offices, but Tigist Demissie, who was born there and has worked for the wereda since 1999, has a vivid memory of when the transformation, of what she says was a low-income neighbourhood, started.
She had worked at the wereda for only a month when she learned that the entire neighbourhood where she grew up would be brought down for redevelopment. The resettlement of residents and the demolition of buildings took place in two phases, first in 1999 and then in 2004.
“I remember the entire neighbourhood crying and making a big deal out of it,” she said. “It was one of the earlier redevelopment projects that moved about 246 houses, so people were new to the concept.”
“It was after the second relocation in 2004, that redevelopment activities started taking place.” Tigist says. It was also after such relocations that investments like Radisson Blu, which opened for business, almost inaudibly, two weeks ago, started.
In July 26, 2004, an Irish business called Strandwood Hotel Group, applied to the city administration for 4,000sqm of land to build a four-star hotel, along with a local partner.
Strandwood Hotel Group has several hotel chains like Ramada Woodland Court, and Espalande Hotel, mainly located in Ireland. Financial statements for the group were made out to the city administration from the Anglo Irish Bank.
The group was given 3,139sqm of land in April 28, 2005 on Tito Street, with an agreement to pay 1.14 million Br by 2016. Later, in 2007, the local partner applied for a name change on the title deed, suggesting that it should be made out to Emerald Addis Plc. The investors remained the same despite the name change, according to officials at the wereda.
Although, in the beginning, there was news circulating that the Hotel was going to be called Emerald Addis, to be constructed with 25 million dollars, it was later established that the Hotel was going to be a Radisson Blu, a local branch of an international chain.
The people behind Emerald Addis Plc are reluctant to speak about the company or the background of the hotel.
The international Radisson Blu brand is owned by Rezidor Hotel Group, a Scandinavian outfit based in Brussels, Belgium. The group owns two other hotel chains, Hotel Missoni and Park Inn under Radisson. A public company since 2006, the group ranks among the five largest hotel management companies, with more than 400 hotels in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
It was quite a facelift that the area received after construction activities for Radisson ended in 2010. The outside of the Hotel is very sleek in design and unique among other structures in that area, avoiding the aluminium and glass windows that have become a staple of modern buildings in the city.
The modern look is also echoed inside. Muted colours and marble walls are sometimes brightened up with hues of orange, red, and yellow in the form of furniture, lamps or paintings. The Hotel only used paintings from a local artist, Abraham Abebe, inside its lobby.
Raddison Blu Addis takes advantage of the fact that it is located in a commercial area and has geared itself towards attracting business travellers.
“Luxury only sells some of the time,” a marketing executive at the Hotel said. “Addis Abeba seems to have the potential for attracting conference tourism, so our Hotel caters to those that are here travelling on business.”
With this in mind, Radisson has converted the entire first floor into nine conference rooms, with the capacity to handle 25 to 240 people at a time, equipped with soundproof glass that drowns out noise of up to 56 decibels, which is about the noise level created by normal conversation.
It will also provide wireless Internet access for free for those who are booked at the Hotel.
There are 204 rooms, out of which 16 are suites, 44 are business class rooms, and 144 are standard rooms. Standard rooms go without a free breakfast, at a rate of 220 dollars.
The staff who are mostly recruits from other hotels like Sheraton and the nearby Jupiter, all wear lapels that state, “Yes we can.” They greet each customer with a smile, showing an eagerness that comes with the novelty.
What seems to be constraining Radisson is its plot. Compared to Sheraton and Hilton, the first two international hotels in the country, it is the only one that is without a compound or even a swimming pool, although InterContinental Addis near it, without a compound, too, has integrated its swimming pool with its building.
Nor can it boast several restaurants and shops like Sheraton due to the limited space. However, it has made good use of the space it has been given. The hotel has a French restaurant Brasserie Verres en Vers that provides international cuisine, a spacious bar that extends into the outside terrace, a gym and massage facilities, the Tomocca Coffee franchise, and a souvenir and convenience store.
Despite space constraints however, Radisson charges room prices comparable to those of Sheraton and Hilton.
It has opened just in time for the AU conference that is taking place this week. Some attending the conference have already booked rooms at Radisson, according to marketing officials at the Hotel.
The fact that this Hotel has begun operation has added lustre to the area. But, on the other side, there are still rustic neighbourhoods remaining, reminders of what the new buildings have replaced, in and around where Radisson Blu is located. Most of the residents, who used to live in rented kebele houses, moved with the offer of buying or renting government houses in Gerji or CMC.
“The livelihoods of most of the people were tied to the neighbourhood. Some worked in the bars, while others peddled small goods outside of their houses. All of that changed when we moved,” said Tigist, whose family rented another government house in Gerji.
Mulualem is still in Kazanchis running the bar from the house the family is living in. Much of the development in and around Kazanchis, she says, took place over the past six years. So far, nobody has told them that they have to move, but she says that it is inevitable.
She welcomes the change, but will regret leaving the place.
“With such high-rises being built, I am sure we will soon have to relocate,” she says. “Still, I cannot be too sad about such a transformation.”