A Hyatt Regency hotel slated to open across from the National Museum in 2020 will incorporate a French colonial mansion that once served as a royal villa, a Hyatt executive confirmed on Friday.
Hyatt announced its agreement with local conglomerate Chip Mong Group to build a 250-room luxury hotel on Wednesday. The new property will join its existing Cambodia hotel, the Park Hyatt Siem Reap.
The Phnom Penh location will occupy a prime plot of riverside real estate at 55 Street 178 and will preserve a turn-of-the-century building that was at the center of a 2013 defamation case against a British journalist.
“There is an existing heritage building on the site which will be retained and form part of the hotel,” Monika Dubaj, Hyatt’s vice president of development, said in an email on Friday.
Ms. Dubaj would not disclose the cost of the project, saying that it was still in the design phase. A spokesman for Chip Mong declined to comment.
Court records indicate that the mansion was originally built as a royal villa between 1900 and 1910. Shopkeepers on Street 178 gave conflicting accounts of the property’s recent history, but agreed that it had been purchased by Chip Mong.
“I moved here in 1979, and the building at the time belonged to a member of the royal family called Bin Dara. His name was on the electricity bill and the houses nearby all belonged to him,” said 78-year-old Lay Seng, who sells paintings, sculptures and other art from a storefront on the street.
Chip Mong “also bought the land behind my house and the neighbor’s,” said Mr. Seng, taking a break from his metalwork.
Dy Na, a 37-year-old employee at Theam’s House gallery, said Chip Mong had purchased the mansion last year. “Before that, it belonged to a government official,” he said. “He rented to foreigners to run businesses—an insurance company and an exhibition hall.”
Records from a 2013 defamation complaint filed by Etienne Chenevier, director of CityStar Private Equity Asia, against British journalist Rupert Winchester, however, indicate the investment group already owned the building at the time.
The complaint against Mr. Winchester centered on a blog post he wrote, which Mr. Chenevier later said had “implied explicitly that CityStar is going to knock down the house to build a seven-story condominium.” Mr. Chenevier called the condo claim a “complete fabrication.”
Mr. Winchester, a former property editor for The Phnom Penh Post, was ordered in 2014 to pay $25,000 in damages to Mr. Chenevier. Reporters Without Borders criticized the verdict by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for its potential to chill online speech.
Art historian Reaksmey Yean said he worried that it would be difficult to maintain the mansion’s elegant historical legacy during the property’s transformation.
The new hotel “can’t compare and will never be able to compare” with the “luxuriousness of this particular building,” Mr. Yean wrote in a Facebook message on Friday.