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New U.S. Embassy — which Trump mocked on Twitter — opens in London

A sign for Nine Elms subway station, which is under construction and expected to open in 2020, stands outside the new U.S. Embassy in London. The embassy opened to the public Jan. 16, 2018.
A sign for Nine Elms subway station, which is under construction and expected to open in 2020, stands outside the new U.S. Embassy in London. The embassy opened to the public Jan. 16, 2018. (Matt Dunham/AP)

LONDON — The gleaming new U.S. Embassy in London opened Tuesday with little fanfare and no official ribbon cutting. President Trump sparked a furor here last week when he tweeted that he was not coming to open the $1 billion building — the most expensive embassy ever built — because it was a bad real estate deal and in an "off location."

Many neighborhood residents took offense at Trump's description of the site — the president had unwittingly inserted himself into the long-running rivalry between Londoners north and south of the River Thames — but others said the former New York real estate mogul had a point.

The new embassy is in Nine Elms, a former industrial area along the south bank of the Thames that is being radically redeveloped. The neighborhood is a short walk away from ultraposh Chelsea, and when its upmarket residential, commercial and leisure spaces are completed, it will be a major extension to central London. Nearby Vauxhall has been gentrifying fast in recent years.

In interviews outside the embassy and elsewhere in Nine Elms on Tuesday, it was clear that one person's "off location" is another person's "up-and-coming."

Early in the day, the first on which the embassy officially opened to the public, a small queue formed outside the entrance for consular services. Landscaping workers were busy at their tasks.

"I can see why someone would say it's [an] off location," Sheron Cloyd, 41, a project manager from New York, said over the roar of a chain saw. "It's not in the city center. It's south of the river."

Glee in London over Trump’s scrapped visit — but also unease about U.S.-British ties

But Cloyd, who also lives south of the river, said the area around the embassy has become fashionable in recent years.

The morning after President Trump tweeted about not coming to Britain’s capital, a wax figure of him appeared outside the U.S. embassy in London. (Video: Associated Press)

"When I first moved here, someone said Vauxhall used to be horrible. Not anymore. It's very expensive and trendy, kind of like Brooklyn," he said. Like others in the line, he got off the train at the Vauxhall station, about a 10-minute walk from the embassy.

The old mission was located in a history-steeped square in Mayfair, one of London's most exclusive neighborhoods. But if Mayfair is the place of yesterday and today, Nine Elms could arguably be the place of tomorrow.

"It's still not completely developed, but it soon will be," said Tony Travers, a London expert at the London School of Economics.

He said that moving from an established area such as Mayfair and buying property in an area where the value "will almost certainly rise" represented quite a good deal.

"It's the U.S. government getting in on the act," he said.

U.S. officials said the move was necessitated by new safety standards imposed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

Trump's tweet last week played into a familiar routine of one-upmanship here.

"Donald Trump cancels London trip after discovering he'd have to go south of the river," read one headline on a satirical website.

Over the centuries, as in many cities, London's rich have clustered in the cleaner areas. Because Nine Elms had an enormous, coal-fired power station belching out soot until the 1980s, it did not make the cut as a desirable area.

Today, the Battersea Power Station is part of the $21 billion Nine Elms development project, one of the largest such schemes in Europe.

Yakine Abdullah, 22, a business management student from Iraq who was waiting outside the new embassy, said the area is not just up-and-coming, it is flourishing.

"It's my favorite area to live in," she said.

‘As usual, he’s dead wrong’: Former U.S. ambassadors explain London embassy move after Trump criticism

Nine Elms is part of the London borough of Wandsworth, where the council leader disputed Trump's characterization of the area.

"Nine Elms is very much London's most exciting destination with a huge amount to offer," Ravi Govindia said in a statement posted on the council's website. He noted that two new subway stations are slated for the area and that Penguin Random House and Apple UK have announced plans to move in.

The Netherlands is also considering moving its embassy to the area.

Henry Pryor, a London property expert, said that when U.S. officials announced in 2008 that they had purchased a site in Nine Elms, he was surprised.

It was like hearing about "prospectors heading West," he said. Other than "fantastic views," he added, the area at the time was "desperately unfashionable" with "little to commend" it.

Now, though, Pryor said, he looks forward to the new U.S. Embassy "blazing a trail" in Nine Elms.

The new U.S. embassy in London: A crystalline ‘sugar cube’ worth a billion dollars

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