Midi envisages that the Manoel Island project will cost as much as €500 million, forcing it to consider bringing in a majority shareholder.
Chief executive officer Luke Coppini told The Business Observer (distributed with Times of Malta) that the potential for the island was considerably different to what it was when the concession was originally granted in 2000 – with foreigners seeking high-end property among the factors.
“We need to create something which is unique – not just for Malta but even internationally – putting it on the world map. This is why Midi cannot do it on its own and why the board took a conscious decision to seek a strategic partner,” he said.
Although the search for an investor has been public knowledge for a while, this is the first time that Midi has acknowledged that the eventual partner could insist on a majority shareholding. Under the terms of the parliamentary concession, Midi requires approval if the new partner takes more than 40 per cent of the shares.
Mr Coppini said that Midi was keeping the government and the Planning Authority abreast of developments. Since the search for a partner began, Mr Coppini said there had been no shortage of investors interested in coming on board, but he also made it clear that the group was not impressed because someone waved wads of cash under their noses.
“The quality of some of the investors was not exactly what we had in mind,” he said politely. “This is a very important point I would like to emphasise. There were a number of serious investors – but also some, let us say, less serious ones. When you do due diligence, there are a number of question marks and the offers do not always turn into anything tangible. And we have had some interesting ideas, including someone who wanted to buy Fort Manoel as his residence,” he smiled.
“We are a publicly-listed company and our top priority is not to announce a strategic partner willing to buy Manoel Island. We need to make sure that whoever joins us has all the credentials to develop it. The last thing we want is for the project to stall at a later stage.
“We are totally determined to come up with a reliable partner with an international name who has the necessary funding to create what the island deserves.”
The process dragged on as the group struggled to wade through the various offers and ideas so that it could submit an application to the Planning Authority for the island’s masterplan. But the board then took a deep breath and decided to start afresh. The group engaged an American ‘end to end’ global strategy consultant, who conducted extensive research internationally and locally to understand the market and the supply gaps that need to be filled.
Midi then set about the task of choosing a master planner, whittling down 20 world-renowned firms to a shortlist of five. A few weeks ago, a Midi delegation went to London to see their concept pitches, which evidently made an impression on Mr Coppini.
“It was an incredible experience to go to an office employing 800 architects and draughtsmen – for a company which employs 10,000 worldwide. It was impressive to see how excited these masterplanners are about Manoel Island, which they see as a precious and unique piece of land,” he gushed.
He believes that by October, Midi will be in a position to embark on a professional investor search, going to investment bankers “who have the right connections and obviously will have a different approach”.
“It has been an expensive exercise. But the approach is much more structured and we are convinced that we will have the right product, the right masterplan, the right master planners, a sustainable business model and, hopefully, the right strategic partner.
“Our intention and desire is obviously to be part of the Manoel Island development. But it is not entirely up to us. If we find the right investor, with the right investor profile, who insists on a majority shareholding, we would have to discuss this with government. It would all be in the interest of the development and also of the 750 shareholders.”