So a new embassy is under construction for a move by 2017, and the residents of Mayfair are relieved. But this being Britain, the new embassy has become the object of debate and, in some quarters, ridicule.
One big problem, as critics see it, is an old one in real estate: its location, in the gritty district of Nine Elms on the South Bank of the Thames in a former railyard surrounded by luxury residential buildings, most of which stand empty.
“It seems sad that the U.S. Embassy is relocating from a beautiful historic square in Mayfair to a fortified bunker in former railyards on the far side of the river,” Peter Rees, the City of London’s former head of planning, wrote in an email. “It’s like moving from New York’s Upper East Side to New Jersey.”
He described the area around the new embassy as “a high-value ghost town.”
State Department officials say the new embassy will be safer, big enough to accommodate the 1,000 employees now crammed into a building meant for 800, and equipped with all the modern communications and environmental features. And local officials are hopeful that the embassy will stimulate development in the area.
Moving to the new site, no matter how grim it may look now, makes perfect sense, American officials say. Renovating the existing building would have cost $730 million and still would not have provided state-of-the-art security, said Lydia Muniz, director of the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations at the State Department.
“It did not have the appropriate setback,” she said. “There are some things you just can’t modify.”
The new embassy is expected to cost about $1 billion, financed entirely by the sales of the existing embassy to Qatar’s Sovereign Wealth Fund and a nearby former Navy building to other property developers, Ms. Muniz said in an interview. […]