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French business tycoons pledge millions to help rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral

Posted in 16 April 2019

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Answering a call from French president Emmanuel Macron to donate funds for the reconstruction of the fire-ravaged Paris landmark, two of the country's wealthiest families have stepped forward offering millions in aid.

French fire officials on Tuesday said that the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris had been saved from "total destruction." But pictures of the blaze relayed across the world left little doubt that rebuilding the ravaged structure, whose roof and main spire collapsed, will require enormous funds.

Even as a first damage assessment has yet to be made, French president Emmanuel Macron has shown himself fully convinced that a efforts to restore the Paris landmark will be successful.

"We will rebuild the cathedral together," Macron said in a statement outside of the cathedral, adding that France would start an international fundraising campaign to raise money for the renovations.

One of the first to step forward in support of the call was Francois-Henri Pinault, the chairman and chief executive officer of French designer and luxury goods group Kering. He and his father, Francois Pinault, announced Tuesday that they would donate €100 million ($113 million) from their Artemis investment company.

"This tragedy is striking all the French people, and beyond that, all those attached to spiritual values," Francois-Henri Pinault, 56, said in the statement. "Faced with this tragedy, everyone wishes to give life back to this jewel of our heritage as soon as possible."

The elder Pinault, 82, is the world's 23rd richest person, with a fortune estimated at $37.3 billion (€30.04 billion), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He is the founder of Kering, which reported revenue of €15.5 billion in 2017. The billionaire also owns the Christie's auction house and has a personal art collection of more than 2,000 works.

The Pinaults archrivals in France, the Arnault family, responded within minutes after the donation was announced. Also on Tuesday, they publicly pledged €200 million.

Bernard Arnault (pictured above), the main shareholder of French fashion conglomerate LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton said the money would be "dedicated to the construction of this architectural work, which makes up part of the history of France."

"LVMH Group will put at the disposal of the state all of its teams - creative, architectural, financial - to help on the one hand with the long construction work, and on the other hand with the fundraising effort," the family said in a statement. Bernard Arnault is the world's third richest person, with a net wealth of $90.4 billion.

Oil producer Total, France's biggest company by sales, will contribute €100 million for the project, CEO Patrick Pouyanne said. Martin Bouygues and Olivier Bouygues, the brothers who run construction and telecom company Bouygues, committed €10 million in personal funds and the company said it also would donate. Technology consulting firm Capgemini pledged €1 million.

Construction company Vinci, the Duval family that owns property developer Groupe Duval, and banks BNP Paribas SA, Societe Generale SA and Credit Agricole SA also said they would give.In the United States, private equity titan Henry Kravis and his wife, Marie-Josee Kravis, will give $10 million, they have announced.

The wave of support for reconstructing the 850-year-old Gothic monument comes as the Notre Dame cathedral was "one of the few monuments to faith that enjoys universal appeal," said Jerrilynn Dodds, professor of medieval art and architecture at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.

"Our love for Notre Dame goes beyond religion, beyond politics. It's part of our collective identity, and now we're suffering a common grief," she told the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, the regional government around Paris has announced it will release €10 million in emergency aid to the archdiocese for initial rebuilding work. Valerie Pecresse, the region's elected head, said in an interview on French station Radio Classique that people wanting to make donations can do so via the non-profit Fondation du Patrimoine.