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Phoenix from urban decay

What stands dull and decrepit today, in the heart of Park Street, could be busy and beautiful in another 18 months.

Heritage hotel and landscaped pedestrian plaza, boutique brands and bookstore, open-air theatre and rooftop exhibition space, sunken parking lot and rolling art gallery.

Shades of Leicester Square or a mini Centre Georges Pompidou is what the 95-year-old Park Mansions promises to evoke after a restoration and adaptive reuse initiative undertaken by the Apeejay Surrendra Group.

'We want to create a destination that will give people of all ages and calling enough reasons to come to Park Street,' stresses Jit Paul, adviser to the group and the brain behind the revival scheme, which got the heritage panel nod on Thursday evening.

Constructed by Armenian jute merchant Thaddeus Mesrope Thaddeus in 1910, Park Mansions was acquired by Paul from estate managers Talbot and Company, and housed the French cultural centre premises, Alliance Francaise, besides Sky Room, Bombay Photo and Rajniklal.

Alliance was ravaged by a fire, Sky Room downed shutters and the building ' flanked by Park Street, Free School Street and Royd Street, and hence, with a regal triple frontage ' now lies in an advanced state of urban decay.

'We plan to repair the crumbling edifice and restore it as a vibrant, iconic rendezvous for residents, with a basket of activities,' explains architect Dulal Mukherjee, anchoring the design solution.

The five entry points to Park Mansions, built in 'old colonial style with an East European aura', will be given a facelift with grand marble lobbies, modern elevators and stairways. A quaint heritage hotel built across four levels and one-bedroom studio apartments will complement exclusive brands housed in the retail quarter.

The piece de resistance of the makeover model will be the interactive zone and pedestrian plaza, created across the 50,000 sq ft central courtyard, now essentially used as parking space.

'It will be very contemporary and I plan to use deconstruction architecture to create a feel of unlimited space with a strong pedestrian axis and totally segregated vehicular traffic,' says Mukherjee.

With a blend of hard and soft landscaping, the well of the mansion will throb with activity, revolving around performing arts and music and spilling onto the rooftop arena. A twin-level sunken parking lot will hold over 100 vehicles with access along the eastern corridor.

'For two decades, we allowed Park Mansions to disintegrate. Now, we are determined to make amends and do something positive that would energise the region and enthuse others,' says Paul, underlining the need for a holistic restoration drive across the city, instead of piecemeal efforts.

The Apeejay Surrendra Group plans to retain T3 ' The Tea Table at its present location, across the new-look Flurys. While most of the ground-level retail tenants like Rajniklal, GKB Opticals, Burlingtons and Gupta Brothers will stay where they are, talks are on with a host of new, high-profile new entrants like Citizen.

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