North Korean Skyscraper to Open, Only Two Decades Late

North Korea has been toiling over its most luxurious hotel since 1988.

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North Korea's tallest structure, the Ryugyong Hotel, is seen on August 11, 2009 in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Some of the world’s grandest architectural plans came to a halt following the global recession. (The Chicago Spire, anyone?) But North Korea has been toiling over its most luxurious hotel since 1988 — and 23 years later, the project is nearly finished. The 105-story Ryugyong Hotel is set to partially open for business this spring, according to the International Business Times.

The original goal of the Ryugyong Hotel was to outdo South Korea, the Washington Post reports. As Seoul prepared to host the 1988 Summer Olympics, the capital city revamped its skyline with construction of new high rises, boasting a 63-story, gold-embellished building that reigned as the highest in Asia.

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North Korea’s response? Go big or go home. With the financial support of the Soviet Union, North Korea aimed at erecting the Ryugyong, a hotel meant to be almost 200 feet higher than Seoul’s newest addition. But the Soviet Union collapsed, leaving North Korea short of funds and raw materials.

Several unsuccessful attempts at reinstating what the BBC called ‘The Hotel of Doom” led the North Koreans to an unlikely partnership. In 2005, North Korea agreed to support the South Korean port city of Incheon in hosting the Asian Athletics Championship in exchange for funding the completion of the Ryugyong.

Park Kil-sang, a liaison in the negotiations, told the Post that Kim Jong Il and other officials emphasized the importance of the hotel renovation in the deal. He described the site as “a huge cement mountain, and it showed the wear of 20 years of just sitting there untouched. We actually figured it would be better to break it down entirely and build a new hotel from scratch.”

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The agreement fell apart, and in 2008 Orascom Telecom, part of an Egyptian conglomerate, took over the project, transforming a rusted reminder of the past into a silver, arrowhead-shaped structure.

According to a 2009 BBC article, North Korea pushed to complete the hotel by April 15, 2012, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s “Eternal President” and father of the late Kim Jong Il. The hotel originally was supposed to have 3,000 rooms, but middle floors will remain empty at first.