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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Ministry landmark soon up for sale

It’s been a monumental building since it opened, and an important part of Norwegian history.  Now the state plans to sell the landmark in downtown Oslo that houses Norway’s foreign ministry, and it may return to its roots as a residential complex.

Oslo’s grand building known as Victoria Terrasse has housed Norway’s foreign ministry since 1905, but soon the sprawling property will be put up for sale. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

Known as Victoria Terrasse, the stately building from 1890 initially contained large apartments that housed the likes of Henrik Ibsen until he later moved around the corner. It was initially built to revive what had become a slum just down the hill from the Royal Palace, and the Swedish king at the time soon got some more fashionable neighbours.

“These were apartments for those with lots of money,” historian Leif Gjerland told newspaper Dagsavisen this week. “Some of the units had up to 14 rooms, their own servants’ entrances, electricity and bathrooms with three types of water: hot, cold and salt water. You could bathe in the sea without leaving home.”

Within a decade, though, the bottom fell out of the real estate market and the whole project went bankrupt. The state took over ownership in 1913 but moved its new foreign ministry into the building as early as 1905, when Norway broke out of its forced union with Sweden at the time.

Just 35 years later, Nazi Germany invaded Norway and the Gestapo took control of the building, using some of its rooms as cells and torture chambers. Parts of the building facing the grounds of the Royal Palace were destroyed by allied bombing during World War II, leading to the integrated, more modern wing of the Foreign Ministry that opened in 1963.

The ministry is due to move in 2025, though, and finally join other ministries in the rebuilt government headquarters known as Regjeringskvartalet, which was badly damaged by a right-wing extremist bomber on July 22, 2011. That huge project has been delayed by political quarreling and budget issues for years, but a downscaled version is expected to once again house the Office of the Prime Minister, the Justice Ministry and reunite several others now scattered around Oslo in rented quarters.

The state is expected to be able to sell Victoria Terrasse for anywhere from NOK 1 billion to NOK 3 billion, “but that’s just an estimate,” Hege Njaa Aschim of the state property agency Statsbygg told Dagsavisen. “When the time comes, we’ll have real appraisals on the table.” The “estimate” emerged last week, when Statsbygg’s leader Harald Nikolaisen confirmed the upcoming sale during a panel discussion on Victoria Terrasse’s future.

Renovations needed
Aschim noted that investors have been paying high prices for prime properties in Oslo’s city center lately, with Ferd paying well over a billion kroner for a relatively small triangular lot between Aker Brygge and the new National Museum. Victoria Terrasse’s location is arguably even nicer with the classic building already in place, but it will need renovation and parts of it are likely to be under preservation orders, limiting new owners’ uses for it. They wouldn’t be able to tear it down, for example, and build another high-rise.

Some local investors have already speculated that Victoria Terrasse will most likely re-emerge as a combination of residential, office and commercial units, perhaps including another hotel. The City of Oslo wanted the foreign ministry to remain in the building and has stated that it’s not interested in taking over the property.

“This will be an expensive and risky project that’s best handed over to the private sector,” the leader of Oslo’s development commission, James Stove-Lorentzen, told newspaper Aftenposten.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

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