The developers of the former Fortina Hotel in Tigné, who last April were given the green light by the Planning Authority for a massive residential development on the Tigné seafront, have changed their plans and want to convert the 15-storey block into a mega office complex, the Times of Malta is informed.
The application for a change of use of part of this development, which also includes an extension of their hotel into a 23-storey hotel tower, arrived just six days after the issue of the original permit as the building is now expected to accommodate Bet365 – a major British gambling company operating from Gibraltar and which intends to transfer most of its operations to the island post-Brexit.
“The gambling company has already signed an agreement with the Fortina developers to buy what was supposed to be the residential part of this development. They paid tens of millions for the property to the Zammit Tabonas – the owners of the development – on condition that the place will be converted into an office block and permits are granted,” the sources said.
Fortel – the company developing the area - is on Thursday expected to be given the green light by the Planning Authority.
According to Edward Zammit Tabona’s application, on behalf of Fortel, the PA was asked to give its permission to a “change the use of two residential blocks and part of the retail element to offices including alterations and changes to the facade”.
Despite the fact that the office block, possibly hosting hundreds of foreign employees of the gambling giant, is expected to generate more traffic in the already crowded Tigné peninsula, the Transport Malta gave its go-ahead.
Parliamentary resolution needed to change use
“The conclusion of the Transport Impact Assessment report states that the change in traffic impact, resulting from the change of use from residential/retail to offices, would be insignificant during the weekday and weekend peak hours and would be acceptable during the more critical morning hours,” a senior official of Transport Malta told the Planning Authority.
Asked to confirm that the company has already agreed to sell its residential block to the gambling giant despite that it still needs the necessary permits to transform the still-to-be-built complex into offices, Fortel’s CEO Edward Zammit Tabona did not reply.
Neither did a spokesman for Bet365 when asked to confirm that the company has agreed to acquire the whole building in anticipation of its move after the UK parts the EU next year.
Last May, The Sunday Times of Malta revealed that Bet365 was planning to relocate most of its operations to Malta from Gibraltar.
Meanwhile, the planning development permit to transform the residential block into open plan offices is not the only hurdle Fortel still have with this development.
A more serious impasse is conditions imposed by the government many years ago when public land on which part of the development is to take place was sold to Fortel on condition that it is only used for tourism-related projects.
The Times of Malta is informed that negotiations are currently under way between the Zammit Tabonas and the Lands Authority so that restrictions in the contracts signed over the sale of the land which precluded any other use of the site except for a hotel will be lifted.
The discussions started earlier this year and no details have been given yet.
The government had already confirmed to the Times of Malta that the approval of a specific parliamentary resolution was needed to change the use of the former public land before the development can start.
This impasse had already been raised last April when the development permit involving the residential development was discussed by the PA, with some insisting that the permit should not be approved before an agreement with the government on the site under discussion was reached.
However, the PA’s executive chairman Johann Buttigieg intervened in the discussion to brush off this objection, arguing that a preliminary clearance from the Lands Authority had already been given.