A Norwegian mountain climber and real estate tycoon who owns thousands of condominiums has emerged as the successful bidder for the former US Embassy building in Oslo. The landmark building reportedly fetched as much as half-a-billion Norwegian kroner, or around USD 63 million.
Newspaper Finansavisen reported over the weekend that real estate investor Ivar Tollefsen has agreed to buy the iconic triangular-shaped building and plans to use it as the new headquarters for his real estate company Fredensborg. The building itself is subject to historic preservation orders, so any modifications to it are likely to be restricted.
It nonetheless has attracted widespread interest. The development director at Fredensborg confirmed the company was among bidders for the old embassy that’s being sold by brokerage firm CBRE on behalf of the US State Department in Washington. Fredenborg’s Kai Sjøvold couldn’t confirm an actual purchase, but Finansavisen reported it was told Fredensborg’s bid had been accepted and that a contract had been signed by buyer Ivar Tollefsen.
“We have no comment about that now,” John Olof Solberg of CBRE told Finansavisen, “but we expect that the sale will be completed this side of Christmas.”
Prime location and history
The building not only enjoys a prime location on the fashionable fringe of central Oslo but it also was designed by famed Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen. It opened in 1959, featuring a dramatic central atrium and classic interior that was extremely modern at the time.
The embassy building housed as many as 200 American and Norwegian employees and was open to the public in its early years, serving as a showcase of sorts for American culture not least through its popular library. The building later became a target of anti-American demonstrations, had to be closed to the public for security reasons and eventually was considered a terror target as well. That led to more controversial security measures including the fence that now surrounds the building.
After years of searching for a new, more secure location that met all its requirements, several more years of delays because of opposition from potential new neighbours and then a lengthy construction period, the US Embassy finally moved last spring to a new location at Huseby on Oslo’s west side. The former building has been sitting empty since, pending its sale. The fence is due to be removed as soon as a sale is complete.
Hopes for public reopening
There had been hopes the building would reopen to the public and it even was considered as the site of a new police station in Oslo. The bidding likely far exceeded what the public sector could pay, and speculation has flown over who could afford or turn it into a justifiable investment, perhaps as a hotel or office building.
Now it seems the latter may prevail, but under an owner with a fairly unconventional past who may have plans for the embassy’s built-in auditorium with stage. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that Tollefsen, age 56, started out in the 1980s as a disc jockey who toured the country with spectacular shows and competitions. He then swapped late-night performances for rally car competition and mountain climbing- and skiing expeditions in the 1990s while also launching into real estate investing. DN reported that Tollefsen now ranks as one of Scandinavia’s largest owners of apartments and condos that are rented out, with more than 30,000 rental units in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Tollefsen is also active in the holiday condo market, owning units in destination resort areas including the Norwegian ski centers Geilo and Norefjell and the coastal town of Kragerø.
Newspaper Aftenposten was among media outlets trying to get hold of Tollefsen over the weekend, only to be told by one of his employees that “Ivar is in the Antarctic” on a climbing expedition. “He’s trying to become the first to climb the southeast wall of Gessnertind,” Aftenposten was told. He and his team planned to spend “up to 30 days and hope to be home before Christmas. There’s no way to reach them now.”