quinta-feira, 24 de dezembro de 2015

Florence turns piazzas and palazzos into cash machines

Florence turns piazzas and palazzos into cash machines

A new marketing model attempts to save Italy’s crumbling monuments from ruin.


FLORENCE, Italy — In early December, the son of a Dubai-based petroleum magnate celebrated his wedding with a three-day Bollywood-style affair that the leading local newspaper called a “stellar wedding” that “moves the GDP of Florence.” The wedding party rented out Piazza Ognissanti for its celebrations, one of the city’s most scenic public squares, at a cost of €200,000, and spent a whopping €20 million on the entire event.

The city’s historical center, known as the cradle of Europe’s Renaissance, has become a cash cow for Florence, as the wealthy flock to rent out its picturesque piazzas, palazzos and museums as the backdrop for big budget weddings and corporate events.

The revenue goes towards the renovation and upkeep of its architecture. It’s a model emulated by cities Italy, home to 51 UNESCO World Heritage sites that are sorely lacking the public funds to maintain its immense artistic heritage.

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Florence’s current status as a wedding destination can be attributed to Mayor Dario Nardella — the man who has succeeded in turning Dante’s hometown into a world-renowned brand.

Earlier this year, Nardella set up a “special events” office aimed at leasing historical venues for private parties, fashion shows and lavish VIP ceremonies. His scheme has the advantage of raising the revenue the city needs while boosting its appeal to tourists and investors.

“We have come up with a precise price list for some of our most prestigious piazzas,” Nardella said. “In exchange, the city gets the important financial support it badly needs. Maintaining monuments is expensive and it’s tough finding resources just by means of taxation.”

The price list varies according to the location’s degree of public use and historical or artistic value. The Ponte Vecchio, one of Nardella’s “top five” locations, was recently leased by Ferrari for a corporate event, while the Belvedere fortress played a starring role in Kim Kardashian’s wedding, an extravagant affair that generated €300,000 for the city. Next, the fortress will host the Ferrari Challenge race gala dinner for 1,000 guests.

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Florence is held up by some as an example of Italy’s potential — if only it exploited the cultural treasures in its backyard.

Italy could practically live off culture: According to the ministry of culture, there are at least 500 cultural jewels dotted around the country, ranging from museums to archaeological sites and historical monuments. The trouble is that the country’s triple-dip recession has further cut funds to the arts.

In 2014, the country generated €214 billion from cultural-related activities, a study by the Symbola Foundation found.

Pompeii has been making international headlines for the frequency of its architectural collapses, and many other sites have been left to rot. In a desperate attempt to restore the famous 14th-century frescoes by Giotto, found in the Basilica of Assisi where St. Frances’ tomb lies, monks launched a crowdsourcing project and raised €500,000.

Private funds and sponsors have for the most part been the ones to step in to help fund crucial conservation efforts: Shoe designer Tod’s has pledged to give Rome’s Colosseum a makeover, while the Fendi sisters are financing the restoration of the Trevi Fountain, and Louis Vuitton rescued a large swathe of the city’s ancient cobblestoned streets.

The government hasn’t been nearly as active in protecting — and making use of — its cultural heritage. Hundreds of significant sites are frozen public assets, and the speed at which they are sold is slow. In the last decade only three state properties were given a second life by private investors who turned them into resorts or cultural centers.

In this context, Florence has been strikingly active in marketing and taking care of its valuable cultural assets.

Not even the mayor’s office is out of bounds: Palazzo Vecchio, the headquarters of the city hall authorities, shut down in August for the filming of Ron Howard’s “Inferno,” at a price of €250,000. The palazzo also hosts civil weddings, and city authorities recently created the website “Yes in Florence” to streamline online bookings. A big wedding generally creates a positive spillover effect for hotels, catering companies, designer boutiques and restaurants.

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