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Promoters Seek Underground Gallery Under Place de la Concorde

November 19, 1996

PARIS (AP) _ Two young art promoters hope to convince Parisian authorities that a prime exhibition space is sitting right under their noses just waiting to be developed.

The site Eric Naon and Marc Pauzie envision as a gallery would be a subterranean art haven under the Place de la Concorde, at the foot of the Champs-Elysees.

City Hall has yet to approve the plan, even though Naon and Pauzie, both in their early 30s, say they’ve lined up foreign investors to fund the $50 million project.

They’ve even sweetened the deal by offering to underwrite the multimillion-dollar restoration of the 17th century Seas and Rivers Fountains in the square.

``If the mayor told us tomorrow we could do it, we’re ready. We’re on the starting line,″ Naon said, posing as if he were on starting blocks.

The underground space, totaling 26,900 square feet, could show haute couture for the nearby French fashion houses; art and sculptures for the museums; and informational exhibitions on how luxury goods are crafted.

The project has drawn interest from French media as well as Michael Wilmotte, the architect whose 1992-94 renovation of the Champs-Elysees revitalized France’s greatest boulevard. He envisions a 275-yard-long tunnel stretching from the Tuileries Gardens to the base of the Champs-Elysees, with entrances at both ends.

Action Mecenats, the organization Naon and Pauzie formed as an umbrella for their project, claims it has potential investors in the United States, Japan and Korea but declined to name them.

French companies are biding their time. Naon contends that since they depend on government contracts, they are awaiting the city’s OK to avoid political problems.

City Hall spokeswoman Daniele Guyot admits Paris lacks the money needed to restore the Place de la Concorde’s twin fountains, a project the city estimates would cost $8 million.

``We started to restore the fountains ourselves,″ she said. ``It’s expensive. We don’t have enough money now.″

Guyot said the city is considering the tunnel proposal, but a decision will take some time.

Naon and Pauzie are optimistic. They’ve already scheduled an inauguration date for their underground gallery: December 31, 1999.

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