| Suri with his wife (on his right) and daughters at the Great Eastern Hotel on Wednesday. Picture by Sambit Saha
Calcutta, Nov. 30: Hours before picking up the Rs 52-crore tab for Great Eastern, the Suris checked in and checked out the hotel. But they did not quite like what they saw.
For Lalit Suri, who has scripted many a turnaround story for heritage properties, Great Eastern ' for which he signed the deal with the Bengal government today ' is likely to be his greatest challenge.
'The situation is a lot worse than I thought. It is certainly worse than what I saw three years ago,' said Suri as he made a one-and-a-half-hour tour of the decrepit hotel.
Suri, who had visited Great Eastern in 2002 hoping to buy it, said he reminded chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee about it when they met at Writers' Buildings today. 'And he remembers it.'
The Left Front government's attempts to divest the hotel had then hit a wall with the labour unions crying foul.
Relieved that the state's decade-long efforts to privatise Great Eastern have finally borne fruit, Bhattacharjee said: 'Better later than never. Ebar na hole kono din hoto na (If it hadn't happened this time, it would never have happened).'
He said Suri would take final possession of the hotel after December 15, by when the government would have cleared all employees' dues.
Flanked by wife Jyoti, daughters Deeksha and Divya and some senior managers of his core team, Suri went around the 165-year-old structure, making notes of things that need to be done immediately.
For the family ' actively involved in the running of Suri's Rs 320-crore hotel empire ' it was no pleasure trip. Everyone brought to the table expertise from different fields.
'I always accompany him when he buys new property.... We have hands-on experience in turning around properties,' Jyoti said.
Strengthening the Great Eastern structure tops Suri's to-do list. His other heritage properties had been developed in phases but Great Eastern needs a complete overhaul. 'We won't touch the interior before strengthening the building,' Jyoti said.
The Suris aim to turn it into a five-star deluxe hotel targeting business travellers. 'We will certainly retain the charm and aura of the Raj era but will throw in all modern-day facilities like swimming pool, gym, business centres and more,' Jyoti said.
As for the tenants on the hotel's premises, Suri said his company would work out a settlement with them. 'An upmarket hotel needs to have upmarket shops and showrooms. We definitely intend to bring chic showrooms here.'
While the hotel's rooms, kitchens, banquet halls, laundry, bakery, restaurants and bar had him frowning, the 2,500 sq ft presidential suite came as a pleasant surprise.
Once the initial cleaning-up is done in two weeks, consultants will be flown in to draw up a master plan. Suri might have to pay more than his Rs 120-crore initial estimate.
But the hotelier was nonchalant about the bulging bills, and the slogans raised by some employees at the hotel gate did not bother him either. 'There are bombs flying around in Srinagar. There was a bomb blast in Delhi a month back. We have properties in both places,' he quipped.