1 AUGUST 2001

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Seeing the light at last

By David Lindsay

The Cottonera project, which has been both the source of applause and controversy, had its cornerstone laid this week, with the inauguration of the Casino di Venezia on Monday and its official opening to the public tomorrow.

While the casino, housed in the impressively revamped Scamps Palace, is a fitting centrepiece to the project, it was no stranger to difficulties.

Tony Cassar, Chairman of the Cassar Group – one of the companies comprising the Port Cottonera Consortium – explained to The Malta Financial and Business Times that the timings imposed by the Casino di Venezia were both stringent and potentially perilous to the consortium.

Mr Cassar explained when interviewed yesterday, "The risk to the consortium was high because they (Casino di Venezia) had imposed a potential penalty on us – if we hadn’t handed over the casino by 1 July, the penalty would have been disastrous. We would have lost the contract and fiscal penalties would have been imposed. It would have been disastrous for us, our shareholders and for Malta.

"However, we got started on the project quickly. The architect in charge was Dr Edwin Mintoff and, together with our Mario Camilleri - one of the directors - and Joseph Bondin, the team began issuing tenders and other preliminary motions. We must admit that in four and a half months all the local contractors managed in good stead."

Following a previously unsuccessful attempt to attract a big name gaming investor to the project, securing the prestigious Casino di Venezia was a formidable achievement for the consortium. According to Mr Cassar, "No one had really imagined that someone like the Casino di Venezia would come over and invest in Cottonera and the development was unexpected.

"In fact, the first time we mentioned the Casino di Venezia to Minister Zammit Dimech, he was extremely pleased but perhaps he was a bit sceptical over their participation."

Now with the completion of the world-class casino, the Port Cottonera consortium’s section of the Cottonera project is well underway. The casino project had cost the consortium a total of Lm1.6 million, while Casino di Venezia had spent over Lm3 million.

This sum of close to Lm5 million has put the Cottonera project’s costings within a more than practical reach of its goal, as Mr Cassar explains, "Considering the fact that, by contract, the government had imposed that the consortium spend at least Lm8 million on the entire project and knowing that the casino element alone cost some Lm5 million, our target is in the pipeline.

"That much has already been spent simply on the casino, without the forthcoming retail outlets, car parks, the hotel and other installations. There will also be restaurants, banking facilities, telephone companies and spaces for offices as well.

"However, without the casino, the project would have never worked. It was the biggest hurdle for us. Now with the casino in operation, everybody appears to be knocking on our door."

Mr Cassar expects that the entire project will be completed within three years from the part of both consortia responsible for developing the area – the other being the Cottonera Waterfront consortium.

While Port Cottonera is responsible for the foreshore – the casino, hotel, outlets and the car park – the Cottonera Waterfront consortium is responsible for the marina, yacht club, while they are also building apartments on the Kalkara side.

However, rivalry between the two is far from the order of the day, as Mr Cassar comments on their relationship, "I think the project will be a resounding success, once both consortia have done their respective jobs.

"We have a good working relationship with no conflicts at all and we work very closely to achieve our common goal."

Related articles:
Interview with Tony Cassar

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt