COLOMBO - A 350-metre tall China-funded tower will be the main attraction for Sri Lanka to lure tourists to the bankrupt country.
Shaped like a gigantic long-stemmed lotus, the structure is the tallest in the South Asian nation. It opened to the public on Thursday, selling tickets to an observation deck with 360-degree views of the city and the Indian Ocean.
When fully occupied, the venue will have shops, host weddings and boast a fine dining rotating restaurant on the bud of the flower.
"This will be the tourism and entertainment hub of Colombo," said Mr Prasad Samarasinghe, chief executive officer of state-run Colombo Lotus Tower Management Co., which is overseeing the building's operations.
"We have developed a business model to earn enough money for operations and maintenance of the tower so that it is not a burden to the government."
Operators are forecasting 1.1 billion rupees (S$4.3 million) of revenue by 2024, against a total construction cost of US$113 million (S$159 million) following repeated delays.
Building began in 2012 with a loan from China's Exim Bank, which exposed it to criticism of being a vanity project, one of the many so-called white elephants commissioned during the tenure of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose family has since been ousted from several government posts.
First envisaged as a telecom tower, critics have long questioned the feasibility of the project. The Telecom Regulatory Commission will service the Chinese loan with its own funds, Samarasinghe said.
Sri Lankan authorities have also been seeking investors for the desolate Chinese-built Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in the southern home base of the family that ran the island nation for nearly two decades.
Sri Lanka has sold a China-funded port in the southern district of Hambantota after failing to repay the debt for its construction. BLOOMBERG