New nest for Venice fest

Project to make up for a lack of gov funding

The battle for Italian fest supremacy is heating up.

The city of Venice has taken the first step toward securing private financing for a new Palazzo del Cinema for the Venice Film Festival.

The building would rival Rome’s Renzo Piano-designed auditorium, which is to host the Eternal City’s first film festival, Cinema, in October — and could be crucial to the Venice fest’s survival.

Mayor Massimo Cacciari inked a complex agreement Thursday that will allow the city to sell off the Ospedale del Mare hospital compound on the Lido to hotel and real estate developers, with the proviso that at least E100 million ($120 million) of that coin be used to build a futuristic palazzo within the fest grounds.

“I am very happy,” said Davide Croff, prexy of the Biennale, the fest’s parent org. “The process has begun: It is an ample, comprehensive plan that will relaunch the entire Lido.”

Croff said the project — its backers envision turning the Lido into a Cannes-like year-round confab hub — should make up for a lack of government funding for the fest’s much-needed infrastructure revamp.

He hopes the new palazzo will be in place in 2009 or 2010.

Last year fest journalists were shown a model of a space-age theater shaped like an upside-down ship next to the current palazzo, integrating existing buildings and gardens with the 2,400-seat venue.

But with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government in its final stretch and elections scheduled in April, getting public coin for the palazzo seemed unlikely.

“It would be unthinkable right now to get the new palazzo built with public funding. But the hospital area’s conversion plan is attracting private investors,” Cacciari told Italian news agency Ansa.

“We want to create a real city of cinema, similar to Rome’s Auditorium, which has become our competitor,” added the Venice mayor.

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