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Digging Deep To Build The Tallest Hotel In Iran

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Digging Deep To Build The Tallest Hotel In Iran

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Digging Deep To Build The Tallest Hotel In Iran

Digging Deep To Build The Tallest Hotel In Iran

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/465611309/465672105" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Iranian businessman Ebrahim Pourfaraj in front of 240-foot deep construction site for what he says will be Iran's biggest hotel. Pourfaraj is betting big that the lifting of sanctions will open Iran's economy to the world after years of limited contact. Steve Inskeep/NPR hide caption

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Steve Inskeep/NPR

Iranian businessman Ebrahim Pourfaraj in front of 240-foot deep construction site for what he says will be Iran's biggest hotel. Pourfaraj is betting big that the lifting of sanctions will open Iran's economy to the world after years of limited contact.

Steve Inskeep/NPR

Ebrahim Pourfaraj wants to build the biggest hotel in all of Iran.

He's already started his project in the far north Tehran, a wealthy zone where the city climbs up the slopes of the snow-capped Alborz Mountains.

You get out of the car, carefully stepping over the little mountain stream that flows in a channel beside the curb. After stepping through a construction trailer, you emerge on a steel-mesh platform looking over the edge of an enormous hole.

The sheer scale is amazing. Construction crews have dug a hole in a hillside, about 240 feet deep. Workers ride an orange elevator to the bottom, where we saw their tiny figures building sub-sub-sub-sub-sub basement floors.

Pourfaraj says no commercial construction site in Iran has ever gone this deep. Even through the dark sunglasses, you could read the pride on his face.

Concrete walls keep the sides of the hole from collapsing — which is a good thing, since huge existing apartment buildings stand right on the lip.

There's no place for offices or a construction camp, so they've been built on the walls of the giant hole. Construction trailers, reachable by catwalks, hang there like an abstract picture on a wall, orange, blue, red and white. I've never seen anything quite like that.

Construction trailers are suspended in the middle of the 240-foot concrete wall that's been dug below ground level. This area will eventually become the underground parking garage at the hotel. Steve Inskeep/NPR hide caption

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Steve Inskeep/NPR

Construction trailers are suspended in the middle of the 240-foot concrete wall that's been dug below ground level. This area will eventually become the underground parking garage at the hotel.

Steve Inskeep/NPR

A Moment Of Hope

International sanctions against Iran were lifted just last month as part of the nuclear deal between the country and six world powers. It has created the hope, but certainly not the guarantee, that Iran's anemic economy will open up to the world and thrive, attracting investors and businesses that have long been locked out.

Pourfaraj used to run Tehran's Hilton Hotel decades ago, back when there was a Tehran Hilton. The name was changed shortly after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Later, he went into the tourism business. Now he's building this hotel, hoping to capitalize on this moment of relative openness.

He knows he'd better get it right because some of the shareholders in his project look down on the hole from their apartments next door.

"Every day they look down to see if there is progress," says Pourfaraj, whose blueprint calls for a hotel that will rise 53 stories above ground.

It will include many retail stores and a presidential suite. Actually, 42 presidential suites, ready in case Tehran hosts some conference that attracts world leaders.

Pourfaraj says he plans to finish within two years.

Judging from the hole I saw, he must have started long before the implementation of the nuclear deal that opened a path for investment from overseas.

His initial plan called for a relatively slow pace of construction, financed by Iranian investors. Now he would like to build more rapidly - "if I have the money," he says with a laugh that indicates how big an "if" that could be.

Pourfaraj and his partners would rather not borrow from Iranian banks, which have been buffeted by the country's economic problems. He would prefer to attract outside investment. He's talking with people from Britain, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Malaysia, and more.

He even asked jokingly if I'd like to invest.

Does he ever have nightmares that this will just remain a big hole in the ground? The hotel builder shrugs off this possibility.

Without foreign investors, he'd have to slow down the project, and find some other financing. Maybe borrow from Iranian banks after all. Maybe rent out the retail space on the lower floors while the upper ones are still under construction.

An old saying holds that if you want to get out of a hole, first stop digging. Ebrahim Pourfaraj has already dug his hole. His only choice now is to keep building.