U.S. Embassy Finds New Location

Seoul and Washington have finally agreed on a new location for the U.S. Embassy in Yongsan from downtown Sejong-ro, six years after they first decided it will move. The Cultural Heritage Administration signed a final agreement with the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday.

They reached the final agreement on April 14 to hand over 79,000 sq. m of Defense Ministry-owned land in the U.S. Forces Korea's Camp Coiner in the Yongsan Garrison to the embassy in exchange for the 26,000 sq. m of embassy-held land in the former Kyunggi Girls' High School site in Jeong-dong in Seoul's Jung-gu, a CHA spokesman said.

The Foreign Ministry and the embassy agreed on the land swap in principle in July 2005, but negotiations and paperwork involving the U.S. government dragged on.

The embassy plans to submit a detailed building plan to the Seoul city government for a construction permit. It plans a 12-story chancery, staff housing and administrative and support facilities. Construction is expected to start around 2016, after the Yongsan Garrison is relocated to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province.

In 1986, the government initially offered to give the former school in Jeong-dong for a new embassy building so that the embassy could move out of the building in Sejong-ro which it had long been using for free. In return, the U.S. agreed to pay W2.9 billion (US$1=W1,082) in cash and hand over the former U.S. Information Service building in Eulji-ro.

But the relocation plan came to a standstill when experts pointed out that the school site is worth preserving as a cultural property because it used to be part of nearby Deoksu Palace. A breakthrough was found in 2005.

The CHA hopes to reconstruct several buildings that were part of the palace on the school site. It plans to formulate a budget next year. The site, now vacant, is currently used chiefly as a parking lot for police buses and a resting place for riot police.

englishnews@chosun.com / Apr. 21, 2011 11:24 KST