The Malta Independent 18 March 2019, Monday

Manoel Island project ‘in full swing,’ construction should start by 2018, says CEO

Neil Camilleri Sunday, 18 September 2016, 09:30 Last update: about 3 years ago

Work on the Manoel Island project is moving “gas down” and a master plan should be in place by this November. The MIDI consortium will then start searching for a strategic partner and construction work should start by 2018, according to Chief Executive Officer Luke Coppini.

Questioned by The Malta Independent on Sunday on the apparent slowdown of work, Mr Coppini insisted that the planning stage was very advanced and the various phases of the project would start simultaneously when everything was in place. “I do not want this to become a white elephant. We will start when we have a proper plan and the necessary financing in place.”

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MIDI was granted the concession to develop Manoel Island by a PN administration in 2000. As part of the deal it had to restore the dilapidated Fort Manoel and other historical buildings, including the old quarantine building – the Lazzaretto. But the consortium has been accused of failing to honour its side of the bargain. Gzira Mayor Conrad Borg Manche insists that the fort has only been partly restored. He says that the only parts that were renovated were the areas that are visible from the outside and a huge courtyard that is sometimes used for private functions. Indeed, this newspaper visited the fort this week and found that hardly any progress has been made over the past five years.

Some have also speculated that the entire project was floundering.

Mr Coppini refuted these claims, insisting that the consortium has pumped millions into restoration work and that the plans for the area are all but dead. He says that the consortium does not issue weekly press releases about its progress but, behind the scenes, things are moving at a fast pace.

On the restoration claims, Mr Coppini says MIDI has already worked on several buildings and spends tens of thousands each year on maintenance. He says that the interior of the structures inside the fort remains unfinished because so far there no decision has been taken on how it will be used. “The fort will have to have some commercial use. We cannot just leave it empty. That would not be sustainable,” he says.

MIDI is working with Foster + Partners, an architectural firm it shortlisted from a total of 15, to draft a holistic master plan for Manoel Island. “The master plan will determine how Fort Manoel, the Lazzaretto and other sites are best used. It will obviously also go into the residential and commercial development that will take place here.” The proposed development will include a yacht marina, which Mr Coppini hopes will be the best one in Malta, a ‘Mediterranean-style village’ and a hotel.

The consortium, he explained, holds weekly meetings with the London-based firm and is going over the plans in great detail, fixing what needs to be fixed. According to the concession deed, some 60’per cent of the land has to remain a green area. “The conditions of the deed will obviously be respected,” Mr Coppini assures.

He concedes that public perception of the project might be different to reality. “Surely, many people did not think that the project would not have materialized 16 years down the line,” we argued. “Projects of this magnitude cannot be concluded in a few short years,” he replies. “To start with we are speaking of an area that is in excess of 300 tumuli.”

Mr Coppini continues: “People may also be unaware that we have done a lot of work. We have restored several structures, which include St Anthony’s Chapel and the Polverista. We have invested around €900 million on the Tigné and Manoel Island projects and around half of that amount has been spent here.”

MIDI has recently been accused of having neglected Manoel Island and directed all its efforts into Tigné Point – the real money-maker – as it has been dubbed by some quarters. “This is unfair criticism,” says Mr Coppini. “We have invested heavily in both sites.” He adds: “People often refer to the original concession deed but few read the parts where it says that some phases of the project will be closed in 2023. Also, there is nothing that said that we had to do both projects at the same time. We started with Tigné and are now working gas down on Manoel Island.”

Asked about the 18th century Fort Tigné, which is also being restored by MIDI, Mr Coppini says the work is almost complete. As in the case of Fort Manoel, MIDI still has to find the best use for it. Opening the forts as free-entry museums is off the cards, Mr Coppini says. There will have to be some form of money-generating activity to sustain operations, but that does not mean that there will not also be a cultural element, he says.

Mr Coppini said he was disappointed to hear all this criticism levelled at a project that will “do honour to MIDI, Gzira and the country.”

Photos Michael Camilleri

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