Project Management Institute

Closed for Renovation

When Tourist Sites Shut Down for High-Profile Upgrades, the Clock Starts Ticking

The tomb of Christ inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

The tomb of Christ inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem


From palaces to ancient tombs, renovations of world-famous tourist sites put project teams in the spotlight. And that spotlight is growing brighter: Global tourism reached a record 1.2 billion international trips in 2015, according to the United Nations' World Tourism Organization—50 million more tourists than the year before.

The high stakes go beyond preserving priceless structures and artifacts—renovation projects can deliver economic benefits. In Egypt, where tourism has been hit hard by political turmoil (the number of foreign visitors fell by 40 percent between early 2015 and early 2016), successful restorations of ancient sites like pharaonic tombs can reposition cities or the whole country as global destinations.

Project teams have to overcome a host of technical challenges presented by aging, decaying structures—and the clock is ticking. Every day that a tourist site is closed is another day the local economy loses revenue. In Rome, Italy, a US$1.7 million project to renovate the legendary Spanish Steps had a target end date of the second quarter of 2016, but the site remained off-limits throughout the height of the tourist season and was encircled in a plexiglass barrier until it reopened in September. Project delays were partly due to a contractor being unable to pay workers, the Rome superintendent of cultural heritage said. Surrounding businesses saw a drop in business, The Guardian reported.


“We've not only rehabilitated the Holy Sepulchre. We've also helped restore communication among its custodians.”

—Antonia Moropoulou, National Technical University of Athens, Athens, Greece

In Jerusalem, Israel, the Holy Edicule, which houses Jesus' tomb within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, had deteriorated over time. The Edicule's weight had dangerously shifted onto the tomb itself: the Holy Rock. So a €3 million project is repairing and strengthening the Edicule's load-bearing stonework. “We hope to shift the load away from the Holy Rock and back to the Edicule's internal and external masonry,” says Nikolaos Moropoulos. A project manager based in Athens, Greece, he is donating his time on the project to the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem.

The religious site's restoration project, which began in May 2016, has a completion deadline that can't be moved: Easter 2017. To meet that date, the team had to carefully assess and plan for any risks—like working with a stone structure whose condition the team couldn't assess in advance. In addition to building contingencies into the schedule, the team put in place vertical and horizontal steel beams to bolster the edifice. This temporary structure supports the Edicule as the team removes external masonry stones that have to be repaired or replaced. “This made it possible for us to do the work without having significant problems staying on schedule,” says Mr. Moropoulos.

Because a site of such religious significance could not be shut down for a year, the team had to schedule its tasks accordingly. To allow pilgrims to worship as usual and for security reasons, “the restorers work at night,” says Antonia Moropoulou, the project's chief scientific supervisor and professor, National Technical University of Athens, Athens, Greece.

That consideration underscores the project's stakeholder management challenges. The project owners comprise three religious communities: the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian churches. The team ensured their buy-in through “full transparency,” says Mr. Moropoulos. Two committees—financial and technical—discuss any financial or engineering issues. But to avoid delayed decision-making, the project owners' committee, comprising the heads of the three religious communities, retains ultimate authority.

Ms. Moropoulou says this stakeholder management approach has helped accomplish two things: “We've not only rehabilitated the Holy Sepulchre. We've also helped restore communication among its custodians.”

Remember the Stakeholders

A program in San Antonio, Texas, USA had to strike a similarly delicate balance between rehabilitating a high-profile tourist site and managing varied stakeholders. At the Alamo, the site of a pivotal battle in the 19th-century Texas Revolution, a two-year, US$5 million preservation program aims to address the complex's deficiencies, including safety hazards. “The Alamo complex has so many needs that were deferred for a very long time,” says Kim Barker, preservation planner and project manager, Alamo Division, Texas General Land Office, San Antonio, Texas, USA.

While the U.S. public associates the Alamo complex with its iconic chapel, the program's largest rehabilitation project currently involves the Alamo Research Center as well as the Alamo Hall, an event space. (Improvements to the chapel will come later in the program.)

In 2015, a year after the design phase launched, the Texas General Land Office canceled a management agreement with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, a volunteer organization that had managed the site for over a century. The Daughters filed a lawsuit claiming ownership of the research center's library collection. To mitigate the risk that the lawsuit might affect the schedule, the project team divided the work into two phases. Rather than delaying the entire project, the team prioritized work on Alamo Hall. When the state settled the lawsuit in June 2016, the team then got to work on the research center.

Throughout this delicate, high-profile process, the team has regularly updated the Texas state legislature and media about progress. The reason for doing so is simple, says Ms. Barker: “A project like this requires an extra level of scrutiny and transparency to maintain the public's trust.” —Novid Parsi

What's Old Is New Again

A look at three recently completed renovations at historic sites.



Location: Giza, Egypt

Budget: US$39.4 million

Schedule: 2009-2016

Scope: Work included the installation of an information center, security gates, cameras and parking facilities.



Location: Rome, Italy

Budget: US$2.4 million

Schedule: 2014-2015

Scope: The team cleaned, repaired and restored the iconic fountain sculpture built in 1762.



Location: Varna, Bulgaria

Budget: €5 million

Schedule: 2014-2016

Scope: The team restored the 130-year-old palace and its grounds, including the former royal stables and four greenhouses.

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