Converted residential properties conquer cities, provinces and villages

The phenomenon of converted residential properties is underway in Italy, particularly in the historic centres of major cities, as is easily understandable since “it’s not possible to have land to build on and it’s difficult to find important prime locations. Cities with high demand are targeted by investors,” says Mauro Santinato, president of Teamwork, talking about Milan, Rome, Venice, but not only, as there are examples that have also affected “villages, with prestigious homes and villas being converted for hotel use. There have been many conversions in the past,” the manager says, “for example, in Umbria, Marche and Tuscany.”

Venice, Milan and Rome

The phenomenon of converting offices and shopping centres into hospitality structures is different, which obviously concerns the main cities, “with strong demand in Milan, Rome, Florence, but also in Venice, where there has been a transformation of many buildings.” Santinato mentions The Langham Venice, that marked the rebirth of the historic former Casino Mocenigo and the Murano glass factory. The new resort will open in 2026, located in the Venetian lagoon on the island of Murano. The hotel will have 133 rooms, including 30 suites. If cities are the areas most subjected to this phenomenon, the squares of historic centres are even more so. They often abandon their business soul to embrace a new role dedicated to hospitality. This is the case for Piazza Cordusio in the centre of Milan, which was the subject of a conversion that involved the redevelopment of period buildings. The arrival of Starbucks in the former Post Office building was a first move, but in terms of hospitality, the conversion of the historic Palazzo Venezia, which was for over a century the Milanese headquarters of the Generali insurance company, gave rise to the Palazzo Cordusio Gran Meliá. Another example concerns the building of the historic headquarters of the Italian Touring Club in Corso Italia 10, in Milan, which was renovated internally to host a prestigious hotel, managed by Radisson Hotel Group. The objective was to enhance the association’s heritage, with major restructuring of the building that maintained the identity of the Touring Club to ensure the continuation of all its most relevant institutional activities, and not depriving citizens of a historical reference point. In recent times, Rome has seen a flourishing of 5-star hotels alongside a high growth in demand. This has also included the conversion of historic buildings or banks. In 2025, for example, the arrival of Rosewood in the former headquarters of BNL is expected. Through all of this, has the advent of smart working accelerated the conversion phenomenon? “Smart working has led to a downsizing of office spaces; if there were a hundred employees before, sixty are now enough. There is no longer a need for one workstation per employee.” And so, workstations and spaces are freed up.

Outside the city

This type of investment has also affected “small districts,” observes Santinato “so it could be that a convent is converted. These are prestigious properties or banks with spaces in city centres, as in the case of Bologna or Parma.” In this regard, Palazzo dell’Agricoltore is a very particular example of urban regeneration. Located in the historic centre of Parma, it is an example of rationalist architecture, built as an agricultural consortium in 1939. It is part of a rediscovery project initiated by two business families, Chiesi and Bollati, from Parma, which do not operate in the hospitality sector, but in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Palazzo dell’Agricoltore is a paradigm shift. It is designed to become much more than a hospitality venue; it will be a B-Corp hotel. The design was entrusted to Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. It will bring about a change in the city as it goes through urban regeneration. Inside, there will be hotel rooms, a “long stay” formula (aparthotel), coworking solutions, smart working, proworking and a commercial area.

Social and real estate benefits

What are the advantages of these operations? “They help neighbourhoods and the areas they are in, and sometimes degraded areas that benefit socially,” Santinato observes. “Hotels are increasingly becoming meeting places, social hubs. A hotel is a territorial stronghold.” The enhancement advantages are in addition to increasing the real estate value. The manager points out that, in city development projects, which involve the enhancement of entire neighborhoods, “hotels are always present because they have a vital and social function.” Plus, there are increasingly mixed-use formulas, “where you can find more services (offices, accommodation, residential) with the aim of improving the lives of residents. Hotels are service centres for both workers and residents.” Looking beyond national borders, the United Kingdom is fertile ground in this regard, where shopping centres and offices undergo this type of transformation. In line with the idea that hotels are service centres, Philip Lassman, vice president of development for Northern Europe at Accor, argues that lively public areas lead to an increase in room rates. For example, Accor has created F&B offerings with its own brand. Examples include Chill08 bars in Ibis hotels in Canning Town, London, and at the train station in Cambridge. Lassman argues that these outlets provide 50-60% more revenue unrelated to rooms. In the United States, where the phenomenon is well developed, CBRE has analysed the main squares subject to conversions.

Stefania Vicini

Nella foto: Langham Hotel Murano ©MatteoThun&Partners

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