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Before Paceville masterplan, Portelli applies for Mercury House high-rise

The Gozitan developer Joe Portelli has formally presented a new application to redevelop the Mercury House site in Paceville, despite the masterplan for the neighbourhood having gone back to the drawing board

james
James Debono
25 July 2017, 9:00am
Futuristic: Zaha Hadid Architects’ design for a 40-storey high-rise in Paceville
Futuristic: Zaha Hadid Architects’ design for a 40-storey high-rise in Paceville
The Gozitan developer Joe Portelli has formally presented a new application to redevelop the Mercury House site in Paceville, despite the masterplan for the neighbourhood having gone back to the drawing board.

Portelli’s application to the Planning Authority refers to his 40-storey high-rise designed by Zaha Hadid Architects as an “iconic building” that would “induce an elegant and contemporary architectural statement.”

He wants to now include residential and tourist accommodation in the project, and amend the building heights and footprint first approved in 2011, which was limited to commercial and office development.  

The new application promises to increase public open space at ground level and restore the original Mercury House as per the original approved application.

The application has been presented before the finalisation of the new masterplan for Paceville, placed on the back-burner after popular disapproval from residents. But the Labour Party has committed itself in its electoral manifesto to approve the masterplan in the present legislature, while ensuring that no private property is expropriated without consent and compensation.

The Planning Authority is currently conducting a social impact assessment on the masterplan.

The Paceville masterplan effectively changed the goalposts for the new owners of Mercury House, who had been bound by a 2005 development brief when they purchased what was the GO telephone exchange from its former owners Penderville Ltd, for €25 million.

The 2005 brief obliged the developer to create a major public piazza around Mercury House, restore the Grade 2 scheduled telephone exchange building, remove any extensions to the rear of Mercury House, and prohibited any hotels being approved on either the Mercury or Pender sites.

Most importantly, the brief made it clear that the Mercury site could not benefit from the floor area ratio policy, which allows taller buildings when more open space is created. The highest building on the site was set at 15 floors.

The design of the whole area had to highlight Mercury House as the focal point, and “ensure good views of its attractive front elevation”.

In contrast, the masterplan for Paceville wants to create a long view to the listed Spinola Entrenchment Archway at the entrance of the Dragonara peninsula. No similar treatment has been granted to the listed Mercury House, which was set to host the highest skyscraper, of around 35 floors, seeing its total floor space area increase from just 11,081 square metres to 87,000 sq.m.

The masterplan was drafted by Mott MacDonald, a consultancy firm that the new Mercury House owner, Joseph Portelli, actually engaged for his own project months before the start of the masterplan. 

A design for the building has already been prepared by Zaha Hadid Architects. The project was to include a boutique hotel incorporating the scheduled historic building, which will be flanked by two towers – one of 40-storeys and another of 25-storeys – housing commercial and residential units.

Over 80 per cent of the apartments in the proposed Mercury House development in Paceville have already been snapped up, according to the leading agent for the project, Re/Max in comments to the Times of Malta published in March. But it was only on 7 July that the planning application was presented.

james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
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