Bill Gates is saying buongiorno, Roma!
The billionaire — who is the brand-new owner of more than 2,000 acres of prime farmland in northeastern North Dakota — is adding something more luxe to his burgeoning real estate portfolio: the Palazzo Marini in Rome. Reports say Gates plans to convert the 17th-century structure, located near the fabled Spanish Steps, into a six-star hotel.
The building is very close to the Trevi Fountain, Piazza di Spagna and Via Condotti, and not far from the Piazza Navona and Via Veneto.
Gates, 66, the former CEO of Microsoft and its largest shareholder, and his frequent investment partner, Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, 67, are paying about $170 million for the property, Corriere della Sera reported.
The palazzo is reportedly a “real fixer upper” that’s been used as a pop-up Ikea shop selling kitchenware and as a canteen for legislators in the country’s lower house of Parliament in recent years.
Gates and the prince likely will shell out big bucks to turn the building, which spans four city blocks in the heart of Rome, into a luxury hotel that reportedly will include about 100 rooms and possibly space for a conference center, gym and spa.
It’s planned as a “six star” hotel, even though such a ranking doesn’t officially exist. According to at least one travel writer, other extremely high-end hotels worthy of six stars include the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, the Baur au Lac in Zurich, Le Bristol in Paris, the Mandarin Oriental in Thailand and the Taj Falaknuma Palace in south India.
Gates and Prince Alwaweed were stymied in their efforts to buy the venerable Danieli Hotel on Venice’s Grand Canal earlier this year because Venetians didn’t want foreign investors taking control of the property.
Gates’ real estate ventures, which are managed by Cascade Investments LLC, the non-philanthropic arm of the his empire, have sometimes caused controversy.
North Dakota’s attorney general recently asked the Gates trust that acquired the North Dakota land to explain how it will be used, to ensure rules outlined in the state’s anti-corporate farming law are met. That law prohibits all corporations or limited liability companies from owning or leasing farmland or ranch land, with some exceptions.
North Dakota’s Agriculture Commissioner also told an area TV station that many people feel they are being exploited by the super-rich who scoop up local land but don’t necessarily share local values.
Some of Gates’ numerous critics have long been skeptical of how some of his philanthropy appears to benefit himself and other large corporations. The Nation reported in 2020 that, out of 19,000 charitable donations made by the Gates Foundation, almost $2 billion in tax-deductible charitable donations went to some of the biggest and most powerful companies in the world, like GlaxoSmithKline, Unilever, IBM and NBC Universal Media.
Gates is now the is now the largest owner of private farmland in the country as well as a blossoming hotelier — ventures that have picked up steam since his messy divorce from his wife of 27 years, Melinda French, last May.
“‘Gates’s vanity decisions, like this reported six-star palazzo luxury hotel venture, seem to suggest what he is: a restless new bachelor with a lot of time to burn and a big ego to self-satisfy,” Linsey McGoey, author of “No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy,” told The Post.
“The question is why people saw him as a benevolent czar for global wellbeing when usually his own wellbeing seems paramount.”
Gian Lorenzo Bernini began construction on the Palazzo Marini in 1650, and it housed many noble families over the years. Pope Innocent XII took over at one point and it briefly became the headquarters of the Pontifical Tribunal.
The building languished in recent years after a developer had to sell it at a discount after he was arrested in 2016 on bribery charges.
Locals hope that transforming the Palazzo Marini is transformed into a top-of-the-line hotel will inject life into the sagging Roman tourist economy. During the pandemic, 410 hotels out of 1200 in the city closed down.
Gates’ Cascade Investment took control of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts in Sept. 2021 by buying about half of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s stake for $2.21 billion.
Prince Alwaleed, through his investment vehicle Kingdom Holding Co, will continue to own the remaining stake, Four Seasons said in a statement last year. Alwaleed is worth about $18 billion.
The Four Seasons did not respond to a call from The Post.
The prince’s holdings include stakes in Lyft, Twitter, Citigroup, the Hotel George V in Paris and the Savoy Hotel in London. Alwaweed is also one of the outside backers of Elon Musk’s upcoming takeover of Twitter.
Gates’ myriad real estate investments are often much less flashy than his new Rome acquisition.
Last year, a reporter for the Land Report tracked down the new owner of 14,500 acres of prime eastern Washington farmland — purchased for $171 million — to an LLC with revenues of less than $300,000 and just two employees in the tiny bayou town of Monterey, Louisiana.
He eventually traced the LLC to Cascade Investments and Gates. Cascade has been managed since 1994 by the publicity-shy Michael Larson, who The New York Times last year said fostered a “culture of fear” at the firm.