AX Holdings is proposing a 40-suite boutique hotel and apartments for the Verdala Hotel site in Rabat, hoping a saga that began almost 25 years ago finally ends.

The new plans have done away with the concept of a solid block, breaking the development down into a few smaller, terraced blocks two storeys lower than the current hotel.

The volume of the development will also be considerably less than what is allowed by planning policies – significantly less than the volume of the current building and the 2001 permit, according to the developers.

There will also be pedestrianized areas and a piazza.

[attach id="593283" size="medium"]Once it got the permit in 2000, AX started refurbishment of the interior and had even started marketing the hotel.[/attach]

The group paid €6.5 million (Lm2.75 million) for the site in 1994 after winning a government tender, and it was awarded a full development permit for it in 2000. However, the Planning Authority had reservations about the proposed elevation, and in spite of countless amendments – including some from top overseas architectural firms – the application has languished since then, neither approved, nor rejected.

The show room that was set up in 2000 and the way it looks now.The show room that was set up in 2000 and the way it looks now.

AX Holdings chairman Angelo Xuereb estimates that some 20 sets of plans have been submitted over the years “at considerable cost”, with the controversial golf course being dropped and the hotel and apartments being changed, at the behest of the PA, to all apartments.

“I had already started doing alterations internally, and demolished part of it to make way for a hotel extension.

“I had an underground car park built and even printed a brochure for marketing purposes. But the issue of the elevation continued to haunt us.

“The PA gave us a number of conditions, and we had virtually agreed on every detail.

“Remember that there was already a hotel there – and I was offering to improve on the facade, reduce the height by two storeys and have terraces.

“Then the PA decided that it did not want a large hotel because of the traffic it would generate. So we went back to square one and drew up plans for apartments,” Mr Xuereb said, trying to mask his evident frustration.

“Now we are back to having a hotel!” he said.

Things have changed in Malta since the original plans were submitted. Chief executive officer Michael Warrington confirmed the idea of a large hotel has been dropped in favour of a smaller boutique hotel, but there is clearly some bitterness: AX Holdings had agreements with InterContinental and Regent Hotels, both of whom dropped out when years went by with no progress.

Angelo Xuereb (left) and Michael Warrington in the foyerAngelo Xuereb (left) and Michael Warrington in the foyer

“The local market is now seeing a lot of new hotels developing inland, whereas 10 years ago, it was inconceivable for anyone to think of having an inland hotel. We still believe that there is room for one,” Mr Warrington said.

“Discussions with the government have been ongoing, and we have been speaking with the PA to try to find a way to take this forward. Besides the fact that the building is ugly as it is, this is an investment for the group and we need to come to some form of resolution. Leaving a significant asset here idle for all these years comes at huge cost for us, not only in terms of financial cost but also the opportunity cost.”

Mr Warrington is confident that the plans will meet with the approval of the stakeholders, although the group has not yet had any consultations with either the community or the council.

“The Verdala Hotel was something the Rabat community liked very much, and having done all our research, we are sure that the community and council will support our initiatives,” Mr Warrington offered. “It is better to have a nice development here than to have what is currently there.

“And we believe it will be an outstanding development.”

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