The Malta Independent 24 June 2019, Monday

Corinthia silent on number of towers it will build, but says it will be fewer than 12

Rachel Attard Sunday, 20 January 2019, 08:30 Last update: about 5 months ago

The Corinthia Hotel Group has remained mum on the number of towers its proposed development in St George's Bay will have, but says it is less than 12.

The development has come under the spotlight, with many people concerned that it will result in more towers and dense massing, much like the db Group's neighbouring site.

MaltaToday had recently reported that a draft master plan includes a total of 12 blocks ranging from eight to 21 floors, with visuals accompanying the article. In response, however, the owners of the Corinthia hotel group, Island Hotel Investments (IHI), described the visuals as fictitious and misleading, saying that the only architectural plans available as yet relate to Phase One of the project.

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IHI said that the aim of the first phase is to develop the Corinthia Hotel, which will include two luxury services residential blocks, with the highest having  15 floors. The group argued that what will happen beyond this point depends on many factors.

It added that certain visuals have been published presenting several high-rise buildings crammed next to each another on the St George's peninsula. "These visuals are not ours and we consider them to be misleading. They certainly do not represent our plans, or our track record in developing landmark, balanced projects in Malta and overseas. They cannot therefore serve as a reference for an informed debate."

This newsroom subsequently sent a number of questions to Corinthia, asking it to specify in what way the images were misleading, whether they intended to build 12 towers and, if not, how many they did intend to construct and to confirm whether some of the towers would be 18-storeys high.

In response, a spokesperson said: "We have no plans to develop 12 towers, hence why the publicly shared visuals prepared by third parties are incorrect and misleading. Besides, these visuals give absolutely no regard to design detail, landscaping or heights that are commensurate to a six-star development.

"As we have stated on other occasions, the draft master plan presented in certain newspapers in recent days is an outdated working volume study document, one of many which were prepared over several years in anticipation of a draft agreement being proposed. Currently, the company only has plans to redevelop the Corinthia Hotel into Malta's foremost luxury property and two luxury serviced residential blocks over a maximum 15 floors, located on land between the existing Corinthia and Radisson Hotels.

"Our commitment to ensure that the majority of our land plot remains open and landscaped stands, as this is cardinal in achieving a sense of true luxury. The maximum volumes for residential and commercial property indicated in our draft agreement with government is capped at 100,000m2. The volumes that the authorities will ultimately permit, in adherence to all applicable planning processes, will ultimately be implemented in accordance with the stated philosophy of open spaces, low density and a standard of luxury. These volumes are more than comfortably accommodated on the overall land plot in the location of the current Marina and Radisson Hotels, within reasonable heights, and in far fewer buildings than the suggested 12 towers and always within the mentioned principles.

"Anything further is simply speculation that is contradictory to what has been stated. We reiterate that our ambition is, to above all, maintain a balanced, holistic environment," said the spokesperson.

This newsroom then sent follow-up questions, given that answers with regard to the total planned number of towers was not forthcoming. In addition, Corinthia was also asked about their statement that the towers will be of 'reasonable height', and whether they are denying that some of the towers would be around 18-storeys high and to provide the heights. They were also asked why the group was not releasing visuals of what it actually plans on doing in all its construction phases.

In response, the spokesperson said: "Please appreciate that current discussions with the government cover contractual rights and obligations, including limits and caps on what we are permitted to develop in terms of uses and volumes. The contract does not cover actual architectural considerations, as these will be the subject of future discussions, public consultations and processes involving the planning authorities as per planning laws, and pursued within time schedules as proposed in the draft land agreement.

"As stated earlier, our only actual plans capture our first phase. Everything else will come at a later date, in future years, subject to all planning regulations, but the spirit of what we will develop remains as described to you. In our view, and intentions, fulfilling our contractual obligations will mean a number of structures far less than the media's tentative 12 in number, and to heights which are reasonable when set in the context of the wider area. Stating anything beyond this is merely speculative."

This newsroom also sent questions to the government, after it was reported that a clause from the proposed agreement states that the Corinthia Group will have the right to sell parts of the property to third parties. This newsroom asked Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi why the government included a clause in the contract allowing Corinthia to sell off parts of the property to third parties without consulting the government, whether this would mean that Corinthia could sell off whole apartment blocks or tracts of land to third parties without first seeking government approval, and how such a clause is in Malta's interest.

A spokesperson for the Tourism Ministry sent a reply, but did not answer the questions. "The Government has engaged with various stakeholders to understand their concerns on the project. Currently, very positive discussions are underway with Corinthia to address reasonable concerns. The outcome of these discussions will be communicated in a few weeks once finalised."

Sources close to the negotiations, however, stressed that the contract has not yet been finalised and that the government is working on the different clauses that need to be agreed upon by both sides.

The proposed project has caused the Opposition and a number of NGOs to speak out on the issue. One issue brought up regarding the project is the question of land payments. On the basis of the draft contract calculations, Corinthia will pay a compensation of €51.4 million for the waiver of the restriction on mixed-used development and a €17 million one-time premium.

This newsroom previously highlighted the fact that the draft agreement stipulates that the premium will be paid in instalments. "(a) The first of such instalments in the amount of €4,000,000 is payable as to €1,000,000 upon execution of the deed and a further €3,000,000 within three years from the date of this deed; (b)and the balance in the sum of €13,000,000 shall, subject to any reductions in accordance with the provisions - of another clause - be payable on a pro rata basis with respect to each portion of net internal saleable area designated for Office and/or Residential use on the Effective Date". This equates to the €17 million premium payment. Previously, Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, talking to this newspaper, insisted that the Corinthia Group is not receiving a discount on the land in St George's Bay and said that the hotel group will end up paying government "in excess of 30 per cent on what had been agreed in 2015."

The Nationalist Party has subsequently expressed concern about the valuation of public land with regard to the Corinthia project, saying: "The footprint for real estate is estimated to be double the built-up area for tourism purposes." The Opposition had said that it "feels the government has no justification in selling off valuable public land without at least ascertaining the market value. This is not in the public interest."


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