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Local politicians get involved: A future for the former American Embassy Club

Local politicians get involved : A future for the former American Embassy Club

It has been neglected for years now, and is unrecognizable as the glamorous club it once was. But now local government is coming up with a plan to create some movement in the right direction. Still, it will take time and money before the former American Embassy Club is restored.

For years now, the former American Embassy Club has endured a sad existence. Now there is a new attempt on the part of policymakers to shape the future of the historically significant building, which is located on the grounds of Bonn International School (BIS). From the so-called "mayor's round", which includes district mayor Christoph Jansen (CDU) and his deputies Michael Wenzel (Greens) and Gabriel Kunze (SPD), comes an amendment to the budget, which includes the future of the so-called “Ami-Club”. A related hearing is to take place next week. In addition to Michael Wenzel and Christoph Jansen, the motion was also submitted by Uli Barth (SPD) and Ralf Jochen Ehresmann (Linke).

Finance Committee has already given a green light

It says the administration should "promptly" apply for funding for "the initiation of a professionally facilitated discussion and working process concerning the future" of the “Ami -Club”. There are a couple of funding possibilities coming from the state, one for 40,000 euros, and another for 100,000 euros. The city of Bonn would have to contribute a total of 14,000 euros. Those who submitted the motion want a moderated discussion with the two local groups who could provide the funding (“Heimat-Werkstatt” and “Heimat-Zeugnis”). “A concept is to be developed in which the history of the club, which is embedded in the past of the district of Bad Godesberg as a diplomatic city, can be permanently experienced by the public in a contemporary manner," write the petitioners.

On Wednesday evening, the members of the Committee for Finance, Participation and Procurement had already made their recommendation for inclusion in the 2020/2021 dual budget - although there was talk of a contribution of around 15,000 euros from the federal city.

Bonn International School said on Thursday that the school "continues to be very interested in a solution". "We are happy about any support in finding a solution. There is interest in the club, but at this point there is no specific conclusion or outcome to communicate," said BIS spokeswoman Natalie Niklas.

The question now is how such a discussion process should be designed, for instance with public participation. "I am sure that a lot of exciting ideas would be brought in with public participation. The "Save the American Settlement" association, which is very active on location, should also be involved. "In the end, there must be a concept that does justice to the history of the building, is sustainable and economically viable," says district mayor Christoph Jansen.

The working process should be steered by the Office for Economic Development, explained Michael Wenzel. It is important that the process is "professional". Gabriel Kunze also agreed. "Overall, I want a well-moderated and structured process that involves the citizens as equals and lets them participate. I leave the actual structuring of the process to the professionals," Kunze said.

Jansen and Wenzel can both imagine not only a culinary use on site, but also envision the club as a "meeting place." "Because of the proximity to BIS, we should also have the target group of schoolchildren in mind," says Jansen. And furthermore, the political past should also play a major role. "As far as the diplomatic heritage is concerned, a place should be created where the public and scientists can get a picture of how it was with 50 years of diplomacy in Bad Godesberg. Not a museum, but a place for discovery and research: analog, digital and multi-media," explained Michael Wenzel. Kunze added: "I think the building and grounds offer a wide range of possibilities." For him, it is particularly important that it is accessible to the public.

But how is such a project to be financed later, when the plans become more concrete? "The ideal solution would be a private initiative with public support. But until then, numerous questions have to be clarified. The building is currently leased to BIS. I expect a clear signal from the mayor that she stands behind the project and that the city will also support it financially," says district mayor Jansen.

For Green Party politician Michael Wenzel, the financing question will arise at the latest "when it has been possible to work out a utilization concept with experts." He went on to say that this would offer Godesberg residents the chance to help steer the whole thing also in terms of content. Whether or not it would be convincing enough for an investor who is focused on earning revenue, is doubtful. “What is needed is a non-profit concept that could convince above all institutions that deal professionally with such inherited burdens," said Wenzel. He referred to the Wüstenrot Foundation, which, in cooperation with the city and the Haus der Geschichte, has created "a magnet for politically interested visitors to Bonn" with the Chancellor's Bungalow. When it comes to the cost of bringing the American Club back to life, Wenzel says, ”Let’s not kid ourselves: The renovation will be expensive, the estimates at the moment are ten million euros. Surely the city will also contribute its share.”

The mayors do not want to commit themselves to a date when the former American Club could be restored to its former glory. "Experience with such projects shows that you need a lot of staying power. What is important now is that energy comes into the process and we tackle the issue together. That is why we are now launching this initiative across party lines," said Jansen. Michael Wenzel assumes that the process will take "several years", after all, discussions must be held, a utilization concept developed and the building renovated accordingly. Gabriel Kunze agrees that it will take years. "I expect four to five years. Sometimes it takes time for good ideas to take hold," says Kunze.

(Orig. text: Maximilian Mühlen​ - Translation: ck)