The Malta Independent 20 July 2019, Saturday

Four dilapidated properties set to be restored for commercial purposes by private sector

John Cordina Thursday, 16 April 2015, 10:10 Last update: about 5 years ago

Four dilapidated government-owned properties are set to be restored by the private sector to serve as a boutique hotel, a home for the elderly, an agritourism complex and a shooting range, Parliamentary Secretary for Planning Michael Falzon announced this morning.

The government had issued a call for expressions of interest for the restoration and the development of the four sites - the Isolation Hospital in Mtarfa, Marfa Palace, Strickland House in the limits of Mġarr and a former anti-aircraft battery in il-Busbesija, limits of Mosta - in October 2013.

Dr Falzon said that 23 expressions of interest were received: three for the Mtarfa site, six for Marfa Palace, seven for the Mġarr palace and another seven for the Mosta site.

A request for formal proposals followed, of which 10 were received in total: just one for Marfa Palace and three bids for each of the other three sites.

These proposals have been evaluated by a committee made up of experts in different fields, and the recommended bidders have now been chosen.

Malta Healthcare Caterers, a subsidiary of the Seabank Group, is the recommended bidder for the Isolation Hospital, which was built by the British in 1924 but which suffered considerable damages in a fire some 15 years ago. The company plans to restore the structure and convert it into a home for the elderly specialising in dementia patients.

The only bidders for the Marfa Palace, which was built on top of the remains of a coastal redoubt dating back to the time of the Knights of St John, were Exclusivity Malta Ltd, and their plan is to transform it into an upmarket boutique hotel. The site had actually served as a hotel in the first half of the last century and as a summer residence by the St Joseph Home of Santa Venera, but has since been neglected and vandalised by squatters.

Strickland House, which is informally known as Charlie's palace and which has served as a winery, is set to be leased to the Frott Artna Agritourism Consortium, who plan to restore the site - which is surrounded by agricultural land - into an agritourism complex.

The former anti-aircraft battery, which helped defend the Royal Air Force base and runways in nearby Ta' Qali, had been used as a chicken farm before being abandoned and ending up a target of vandals and illegal dumping. It is now set to be leased to U-Group Malta Ltd, which plans to develop a shooting range.

Dr Falzon explained that negotiations over the leases are now set to start, with the aim of concluding them in the coming weeks. The government was pushing for a 45-year lease, which he said was long enough for the winning bidders to commit to investment but which would ensure that the government would not be effectively surrendering control of the sites permanently.

He said that should negotiations fall through, the government is free to enter into discussions with the other bidders. Once negotiations are concluded, the contracts will be presented to parliament for approval.

The parliamentary secretary said that the government was aiming to issue calls for expressions of interest for other dilapidated properties that it owned, stating that such initiatives helped bring about a win-win situation.

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