Excelsior hotel extension unacceptable, heritage authority insists

Proposed extension for 99-room block along UNESCO World Heritage status bastions ‘is unacceptable’, watchdogs say

Existing view from pieta
Existing view from pieta

The design advisory committee in the Planning Authority and Malta’s heritage watchdog have said a proposed extension of the Excelsior Hotel alongside the Floriana bastions is “unacceptable”.

Both the DAC and the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage said the photomontages showing the full impact of the extension of the Excelsior Hotel on the capital city would have an unacceptable impact.

This means the project will probably go back to the drawing board as it is extremely rare for the PA to approve a project shot down by heritage authorities.

The proposed extension consists of a stepped building, rising from six to eight floors (25.7m from ground level), for 99 new rooms. The upper two storeys will extend above the Great Siege Road, visually encroaching on the lower part of the scheduled fortifications and obscuring them.

The plans were presented in 2018 after the original plan to add two storeys on the present structures was abandoned due to similar heritage concerns.

View from Pietà
View from Pietà

The DAC, chaired by architect David Mallia, which advises the PA on architectural matters, said it was “gravely concerned about the visual impact of the proposal on the external views of the UNESCO World Heritage City of Valletta” while the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage described as unacceptable the impact on the values of the UNESCO World Heritage site.

A Visual Amenity Impact Assessment conducted for the proposed extension of the Grand Hotel Excelsior concluded that the development would have a major impact on views from Ta’ Xbiex and Pietà.

When viewed from Pietà, the development will also screen part of the fortifications.

Furthermore, the upper floors of the development will impinge on existing views of Marsamxett harbour, when viewed from Great Siege Road.

The development of the Excelsior was one of the first rallying causes for conservationist movement Din l-Art Ħelwa, founded in 1965 under the leadership of Judge Maurice Caruana Curran. Din l-Art Ħelwa vehemently opposed the building of the Excelsior, which tore a hole in Valletta’s fortifications.

Existing Great Siege Road
Existing Great Siege Road

The original hotel was proposed by the Malta and Europe Hotels Ltd, a company formed in 1964 by Italians Antonio and Nada Ghidoli. When the Excelsior hotel was completed, Cecil Pace, a main creditor to the Ghidolis, proceeded to convert this debt into shares.

The Excelsior became embroiled in the BICAL bank scandal which saw the government taking control of Pace’s bank. Yet the hotel survived, only to close its doors in March 1990 after dismissing its 145 employees.

The hotel was then sold to Hopewell Holdings, which planned to demolish it and build a new one. The original hotel was demolished in 1992 and initial work began to develop a 420-room hotel and a marina with berths for 20 yachts. By 1999, however, work on the site slowed down and came to a halt. In 2003 the hotel was bought by its current owner, Hong Kong-based Stewart Elliott, and reopened in 2007. Back then Eliott did not hesitate to point out “eyesore developments across the harbour, which marred the landscape”.

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