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How LOT landed up in the Marriott
Part 4 --August 1998
There were those among the helmsmen of the Polish economy, as was one of the more exuberant definitions once used, who thought Wilanowski was suffering from some kind of megalomania. What on earth was LOT going to do with such a huge hotel in central Warsaw they asked and mentioned a hundred and one more urgent tasks for which money was needed. But for many long years we had dreamed of acquiring in the centre a head office worthy of the national carrier, as well as offices and a hotel of great convenience to passengers, meeting world standards. I was quite obnoxious in losing no opportunity to grab the decision takers by their sleeves when they appeared at Okecie International Airport and kept repeating: a truly great hotel is needed by LOT like fresh air and would become yet another step in the company's development.
Once connections with the USA, Canada and Asia had been opened the absence of appropriate accommodation became increasingly painfully felt, since Warsaw hotels were overcrowded and were, in the majority, in something of a decrepit shape. The idea concerning an Air Terminal, backed up by an economic feasibility study, was pressed into the hands of prime minister Jaroszewicz on the step leading up to a plane, while I mentioned the matter of a loan for its construction when he flew to London for talks with the British government on the purchase of a tractor production license for the "Ursus'' factory. When he returned he had a British bank promissory note for a 60-million dollar credit line.
I had earlier become a permanent figure in the Ministry of Transport which was LOT's superior power, had won the favour of Warsaw president Jerzy Majewski and had managed to gain the goodwill of the city's Chief Architect Tadeusz Szumielewicz for our plans. When they were all in favour of the idea, they decided the hotel would be erected near the Central Railway Station. LOT still required the approval of the Foreign Trade minister and the Polish government to guarantee the loan would be repaid. In the final account the cornerstone was laid and work started in accordance with the design of Warsaw architects Jerzy Skrzypczak S and Tadeusz Stefanski. The steel structure mushroomed upwards but I still had to explain to various dignitaries that this would be no "white elephant". That was the outcome of various anonymous letters and comments which claimed that the whole project was a major blunder and that it would collapse before being finished. It sounds like a joke, perhaps, but it definitely was not. Piotr Jaroszewicz took me to task several times on the subject. I had to nominate a team of experts, led by my school class-mate Professor Lubiliski and chancellor of the Warsaw University of Technology. The accurate calculations they undertook closed the mouths of those who were still looking for an unhealthy sensation.
The British firm "Cementation" constructed the foundations and ground floor and then left since that was when martial law was introduced. The West had frozen our account and we had no money to pay. The future of the Air Terminal was suspended in a vacuum. And I soon went into retirement though I did not have to. The military lobby won the day and general Jozef Kowalski, the commander of the Polish Airforce cadets school in Deblin took over in LOT. He was an excellent fighter pilot but knew nothing at all about civilian aviation. I was his adviser. I protested violently when he wanted to finish the hotel's construction employing soldiers. Luckily, Mariusz Zakrzewski, LOT's administrative director, was keeping a close eye on developments. He brought around the military director of LOT to his way of thinking and when the investment was reanimated Kowalski went on to play a very positive role, for when the need arose he donned his general's uniform and accompanied Zakrzewski to the most complex discussions, for instance to the planning commission.
It was not easy to complete the started work by 1984. Foreign banks were scared to grant Poland loans. Zakrzewski succeeded in persuading Mr. Marriott the proprietor of the world's largest hotel network to cooperate with us, after that the Austrian building company "Ilbau" in what, in effect, was Poland's first joint-venture type joint stock company. LOT's ambitious plan which began under the title of "Air Terminal" ended with the "Marriott". The first guests entered in 1984. And the hotel which boasts 570 rooms able to accommodate 1000 persons had repaid all its debts in the seventh year of its operations. More, it is still proving an excellent business. Add to that the fact that its slim silhouette has become such an indelible feature of Warsaw centre that it figures on all picture postcards.
Noted by Tadeusz Zakrzewski