The gap on the Vittoriosa Waterfront is about to be filled... now that the permit for a five-star hotel, which will occupy the empty space and the two neighbouring palaces, has been approved. The development has been described as "the missing link to the amazing site".

It is estimated that the project, which includes 111 rooms, should cost some €12 million (Lm5.15 million) and be completed within two to three years, Simon Tortell, a director of Port Cottonera Hotel Development Co. Ltd, which owns the property, said.

So what architectural style would sit comfortably, sandwiched between the 17th century palaces - the restored Casinó di Venezia on one side and the palaces of the Captain Galleys and the Captain Galleys Squadron, both in a state of disrepair, on the other - without causing controversy in the sensitive site?

Following in-depth research, architect Edwin Mintoff - who has been working on the Vittoriosa Waterfront project since 1997, designing the casino and the Treasury Building - drew up his plans to create what he believes "translates the past of the architecture into a modern idiom".

"The firm felt it should be a departure from an ultra-modern façade, but," he stressed, "by no means is it a classical building, a replica, or a reconstruction. It has an aesthetic that clearly reads as a contemporary structure, built in 2010, while respecting the proportions, forms and rhythms of the existing buildings."

Dr Mintoff is not going for preservation but for what he terms active conservation. "One would have been tempted to create a tremendous contrast, with modern, steel structures but, in this context, it was a case of striking a balance," he explained.

The challenge, he said, was to reconcile the various architectural elements and proportions of the neighbouring façades and openings, "respecting the old, but being conscious of the new". In fact, the materials on the façade are modern, while the stonework, he pointed out, continues along the line but is elegant and not as elaborate. The façades of the two palaces and some internal features that form part of the original buildings will remain intact, Dr Mintoff said, envisaging that when works are completed, following a meticulous and studied process, they would be "restored to their former glory".

The "amazing structures, vaults and workmanship" on the ground level of the palaces are being turned into outlets accessible to the public from the outdoors, he said.

The elevation of the new building appears to be divided into three floors, in keeping with its neighbours, when it actually has five, he pointed out, adding that the hotel should have one of the more extensive frontages in Malta.

The project was also giving something back to the residents - the long wall that has separated the waterfront from Vittoriosa, blocked off during World War II, would finally be completely demolished and the stairs between the two palaces that connected the city to the sea are being reconstructed, with the hotel being joined beneath them.

The hotel should service the adjacent casino, to which it will be connected, but not only... It was also keeping in mind the major development in the south and SmartCity, Dr Tortell said, pointing out that the marina would now be more attractive to yacht owners.

The hotel, which should employ about 100 staff, adding to the 130 at the casino, is being supported by conference facilities, a spa, restaurants, cafeterias and retail outlets, as well as a pool on the roof.

The final plans were submitted to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority in late 2006 and works should start within eight to 12 weeks, Dr Tortell said.

Limited accessibility would delay the completion but he insisted that the activity on the waterfront would not be disturbed because cranes and machinery would be kept within the extensive confines of the site.

The deal for the site was originally signed, back in 1999, between the government and Port Cottonera Ltd, composed of Maltese investors, Dr Tortell said. The Casinó Municipale di Venezia Spa then bought the casino and, a year later, the adjacent land and two palaces. These were sold to Italian entrepreneur Fernando Orlandi in 2006, the present owner and chairman of Port Cottonera Hotel Development Co. Ltd.

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