Akasaka Prince, favored venue for power players, to close in ’11

by Reiji Yoshida

It was a dream hotel for young ladies during the late-1980s bubble economy and the center of politics in the 2000s, but its aging facilities are failing the test of time and foreign competition.

The Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka has announced it will close its doors at the end of next March after 55 years in business.

The hotel, better known among Tokyoites as “Aka Puri,” served as the main celebration venue for many a politician or celebrity.

It was also a place where reporters on the political beat would roam all day covering the main faction of the Liberal Democratic Party, which had its main office and meeting room in the Banquet Building.

Four consecutive prime ministers in the 2000s — Yoshiro Mori, Junichiro Koizumi, Shinzo Abe and Yasuo Fukuda — rose to power from the faction, formally called Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyukai, making the hotel one of the grand stages in national politics.

Indeed, many key government officials, including chief Cabinet secretaries and prime ministers’ secretaries, held informal meetings with reporters there to send signals to other political players.

Hotel spokesman Koji Takeuchi said the Grand Prince Akasaka has been turning a profit and that declining income was not the main reason behind the decision to close.

“The per-room revenue has fallen compared with that during the bubble economy, but that can be said of any hotel” in Tokyo, Takeuchi said.

Instead, operator Seibu Holdings has decided to redevelop the compound to make better use of the place in light of the Grand Prince Akasaka’s aging facilities and rising competition from other luxury hotels, he said.

The Seibu group will reportedly redevelop the site for commercial facilities and offices, while two of the complex’s three main structures — the New Building and the Banquet Building — will be demolished.

The 40-story New Building, opened in 1983, was designed by the late Kenzo Tange, one of Japan’s best-known architects.

But Takeuchi said “nothing concrete” has been decided so far and that the only definite decisions are to terminate hotel operations and preserve the Old Building for its historic value.