Interested in opening a luxury hotel in the heart of Provence? Check out this real estate offering by the French government: "Exceptional location at the foot of the Palace of the Popes, view of the Rhone River, 10,280 square meters. Ancient St. Anne Prison." The property includes "detention cells, two gyms, a library, a cinema, infirmary rooms, a kitchen and stores," according to the advertisement on the French government's Web site. Avignon, the ancient walled Provencal city famous for a bridge immortalized in a nursery rhyme and a palace built for medieval popes fleeing the chaos of Rome, is searching for a buyer willing to transform its 1865 prison into a luxury hotel, The Washington Post reports. The French government launched an aggressive property sales campaign in 2005. The sales have since jumped from $230 million a year to just over $1 billion last year. The prison is one of dozens of properties across the country that the French government is trying to unload. Whether it's a rural chateau or an urban high-rise, the goal is to boost state finances by selling off buildings that have become too costly or outdated to maintain.
Michel Moreno, local head of France Domaine, the government agency charged with disposing of unused property, said architects estimate it will cost about $40 million to renovate the building. That job would require breaking through 18-inch cell walls, installing heating and air conditioning and generally transforming a sterile edifice into a 110-room hotel that would command top dollar from tourists and nearly double the number of four-star hotel rooms in the city. Because renovation costs will be so high, city officials said the actual sale price of the buildings could be as low as $2 million. The "best cells," like No. 224, where artificial flowers sprout from a chipped vase on a dusty table, could become a presidential suite. But the artwork might have to go. Glancing at curling magazine pages taped to the walls, Moreno noted, "No Picasso or Matisse here, only Playboy and Penthouse."