ECB lays cornerstone of new Frankfurt headquarters

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The European Central Bank laid the cornerstone for its new Frankfurt headquarters on Wednesday amid a eurozone financial crisis that has some wondering where its future lies.

"Our new premises will reflect the values -- integrity, excellence, efficiency and transparency -- that are essential to our activities," ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet told a ceremony threatened by rain-laden clouds.

Trichet will not occupy the building himself however since he is to step down in October 2011, two years before the headquarters are completed.

The ECB project has been hit by delays and work was officially launched as eurozone finance ministers mulled details of a historic rescue plan to lay a foundation for borrowing by troubled members like Greece, Portugal and Spain.

The 750-billion-euro (trillion-dollar) package agreed last week was key to Europe's single currency, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told lawmakers in Berlin earlier in the day.

"If the euro fails, then Europe fails," she warned.

In Frankfurt, ECB officials vowed to stick to their budget for the striking 44-storey glass and steel structure in the city's East End even though it is now due to be finished nearly three years behind schedule.

The twisted double-tower headquarters should be ready at the end of 2013, with full occupancy expected in 2014, instead of 2011 as originally planned.

Total costs have been estimated at 850 million euros (about one billion dollars) at 2005 prices, when the budget was established.

If inflation is taken into account, the final cost will likely be higher.

Frankfurt's landmark Grossmarkthalle produce market, built in 1928, has been integrated into the design, which will include a memorial to Jews held in the market's basement during their deportation to concentration camps in the 1940s.

Although the global economic crisis and legal challenges contributed to construction delays, the ECB has also benefited from significant cost decreases since an initial tender was cancelled in June 2008, 10 months after its launch in August 2007.

Trichet said ECB staff had been instructed "to monitor the works carefully and to keep a close eye on the quality, on the scheduling and on the costs of the project.

"The budget has to be respected," he said.

The design showcases two towers of 185 and 165 meters (607 and 541 feet) linked by an atrium and interchange platforms, and will provide work space for between 1,500-1,800 staff plus public and media spaces.

Each eurozone member will have a representative office and the ECB governing council is to meet at the top of the higher southern tower under a glass roof, reports said.

The buildings are expected to be 30 percent more energy efficient than German standards at the time of their design, with natural ventilation and a geo-thermal assisted heating network.

© 2010 AFP

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