Editor's note: As our On Location column (M&C, Newsline, October 2011) notes, the Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre has opened in Iceland's capital. What readers might not realize is that this facility, its troubled history notwithstanding, has helped the nation's rise from financial ruin a mere three years ago. Author Gregg Lieberman, who recently visited the storied destination, elaborates below.
For Icelanders, the Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre is more than a venue; it is a tangible symbol of their emergence from the darkest time in their nation's history, the banking collapse in 2008 that threatened to bankrupt the nation.
At the time, the Harpa project was the domain of one of the nation's leading financiers, whose ruin in 2008 revealed the project to have been based entirely on loans from his own now-defunct bank. With no money to continue development as the county's economic crisis worsened, it was feared that the hole in the ground where Harpa was to be built would serve as a lasting memorial to the imprudence of the boom years. However, as officials of the Althing -- Iceland's government -- asserted control over the country's economy and slowly began to restore it, they and the capital city's leadership took over and completed Harpa.
Other signs have been pointing to Iceland's restoration as a nexus for international business between the Americas and Europe:
• In May, Icelandair launched its introductory service from Washington-Dulles International Airport with four nonstops a week to Keflavik, and in mid-September announced it would begin four nonstops each week from Denver International Airport starting in May, 2012.
• Bookings have been up at the 52-room Hotel Ranga, a luxury resort one hour from Reykjavik popular with business executives for its access to some of the world's finest -- and most expensive -- salmon fishing.
• At the famous Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, the Exclusive Lounge has debuted featuring private changing rooms, as well as its own indoor lagoon.