1990’s – Today
Renovation began in 1996 following the withdrawal of Syrian soldiers from the building. It slowed, however, when the giant construction company Solidere – having driven out all other former property owners from downtown Beirut – moved against the Saint-George, which although completely outside its jurisdiction threatens Solidere’s control of St.George’s Bay.
Solidere’s actions, which included construction of a giant sea wall and marina in front of the Saint-George hotel and the siezure of its waterfront – were backed by the then-government of prime minister Rafik Hariri, whose family and friends were Solidere’s major shareholders. The government blocked reconstruction of the hotel especially after Hariri’s re-election in September 2000.
In a bizarre twist of fate, February 14, 2005, a car bomb exploded as Hariri drove past the Saint-George killing him in front of the hotel whose reconstruction he had blocked. Twenty-one others – including five Saint-George’s staff – died in the massive explosion, which also inflicted $15 million of damage to the hotel and its recently completed annex.
Following the bomb blast, rehabilitation of Beirut’s once-iconic hotel stopped. But the aggression against the Saint-George by Solidere and the government – run in the same spirit as before – did not. The road in front of the Saint-George was closed for nearly three years. The electricity and water supply and telephone network cut by the explosion were not repaired. Municipal officers blocked improvements to the Saint-George Yacht Club adjacent to the hotel, while police evicted yatchs from its waterfront marina and harassed Saint-George’s staff and supporters protesting the authorities’ and Solidere’s illegal acts.
Nothing it seems – not even the Army – could help the beleagured Saint-George; a miliary committee that evaluated the hotel’s war damage and recommended compensation has been ignored by civilian authorities who have paid out millions to others.
Despite difficulties Saint-George Yacht Club and Marina continues to operate daily. But the shell of the Saint-George hotel stands shrouded in scaffolding and netting, a dismal shadow of the days when it was the most famous hotel in the Middle East, and a grim reminder of Beirut’s bitter civil war.