Tobacco ware­house trans­formed with love into 5-star ho­tel in Drama

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY YIOULI EPTAKILI

“Have you ever fallen in love with a build­ing? Well, that’s what hap­pened to me.” My ques­tion was sim­ple: Why would a man from Crete put him­self through the 12-year or­deal of trans­form­ing an old in­dus­trial build­ing in Drama, north­ern Greece, into a lux­ury ho­tel?

But love, or rather ob­sti­nacy, and per­haps even a hint of mad­ness, was the fuel that kept busi­ness­man Mano­lis Ledakis from Ha­nia go­ing in his pur­suit to trans­form the town’s em­blem­atic 1920s-era tobacco ware­house – for years lan­guish­ing be­hind a “For sale” sign un­til the love af­fair started in 2004 – into the five-star Hy­drama Grand Ho­tel.

Af­ter scal­ing in­nu­mer­able ob­sta­cles – the cri­sis, moun­tains of red tape, tech­ni­cal prob­lems, lengthy pro­ce­dures to ac­quire a li­cense to trans­form the listed mon­u­ment, pa­per­work to get fund­ing from the Na­tional Strate­gic Ref­er­ence Frame­works and, of course, the cap­i­tal con­trols im­posed last sum­mer – the project was suc­cess­fully com­pleted and the Hy­drama opened its doors to the pub­lic some two months ago.

The 7,500-square me­ter build­ing is listed as a his­tor­i­cal mon­u­ment of in­dus­trial ar­chi­tec­ture from the early in­ter­war years. It is an im­pos­ing spec­i­men of util­i­tar­ian yet el­e­gant de­sign lo­cated in the most beau­ti­ful spot in the town of Drama, over­look­ing the Aghia Var­vara springs and lake.

The build­ing sym­bol­izes the city’s golden years in the 1914-24 pe­riod, fu­eled by the tobacco in­dus­try. The im­pos­ing tobacco pro­cess­ing plant did not just re­flect the wealth of its owner, Swiss Jew Her­mann Spierer, a force in the global tobacco trade, but also the in­spired ar­chi­tec­ture of its builder, Aus­trian ar­chi­tect Kon­rad von Vi­las.

To re­al­ize his vi­sion, Vi­las had lum­ber im­ported from Aus­tria, along with spe­cial­ized tech­ni­cal crews.

The build­ing was bought in 1932 by the Aus­tro-Hel­lenic Tobacco Com- pany and op­er­ated as a tobacco pro­cess­ing plant un­til 1974, when it be­came a ware­house.

Now, it is a lux­u­ri­ous city ho­tel de­signed by 3SK Stylian­i­dis ar­chi­tects, who sought to high­light the build­ing’s his­tor­i­cal qual­i­ties by re­tain­ing many of the ar­chi­tec­tural el­e­ments from the 1920s.

The ho­tel con­sists of 73 rooms and lux­ury suites, a con­fer­ence hall, an a la carte restau­rant, a bar restau­rant and a jazz bar. It also boasts an el­e­gant wine store, where lo­cal la­bels are given a star­ring role.

Ledakis hopes that Hy­drama – named af­ter the ancient Greek set­tle­ment that once stood there and mean­ing “rich in wa­ter” – will help boost tourism in the en­tire area.

“Drama and the broader area have a lot to of­fer the vis­i­tor,” says Ledakis, whose tele­phone has been ring­ing non­stop with calls from other his­toric ware­house own­ers in­spired by his en­deavor.

“It has nat­u­ral at­trac­tions, winer­ies that are open to the pub­lic, thriv­ing cot­tage in­dus­tries, ar­chae­o­log­i­cal wealth, an amaz­ing his­tory and the World War II-era Fort Lisse, which must be put to use. If we all work to­gether, this town can be­come a des­ti­na­tion,” he adds.

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