The French Find a Free-Market Solution to Historic Preservation
When I was driving into work today, I heard a story on NPR about how a private company is turning a dilapidated part of the French Palace of Versailles, the Hôtel du Grand Contrôle, into a luxury hotel. According to the story:
[Deputy Administrator for the Palace of Versailles] Hautchamp says Versailles doesn’t have the $7 million it will take to restore the building, which is why it turned to Belgian hotel company Ivy International. The company will renovate the mansion and turn its 23 bedrooms into a luxury hotel.
A percentage of the profits will be paid back to the Palace of Versailles in rent. The restoration is the first in a series of commercial projects aimed at saving French monuments.
Not only is this a rare opportunity to apply knowledge from my French major in a professional capacity (it’s the plight of the liberal arts major, n’est-ce pas?), this story illustrates how practical solutions to public policy problems exist in the private sector.
Turning Versailles into a hotel will have many positive consequences. More people will be able to enjoy the building than they do in the status quo, or if it were in ruins. Additionally, taxpayers won’t be forced to pay for the restoration, nor will the restoration compete with other government programs for funds. Another positive consequence is that the building and its history will be preserved. The following quote in the article particularly illustrates this point:
“It surprised me at first,” Denise Mosset says. “But if we don’t have the money to restore it, this is better than letting it fall into ruin.”
This story is particularly relevant to Saint Louis, which has beautiful architecture, limited financial resources, and competing needs for these resources. The city of Versailles found a free-market solution to historic preservation, and the city of Saint Louis would be wise to investigate the same. Policymakers in Missouri could learn a lot from the French.
Additionally, and parenthetically, this story represents how, in free economies, individuals can improve their quality of consumption over time. In the past, Versailles was a building that could only be enjoyed by the super elite (the French monarchy). In the present, it will be enjoyed by non-elite guests every day.