Seabank owner announces €150 million land reclamation bid

Debono confirmed his interest in land reclamation but refused to reveal any details on the site earmarked for the massive project.

The Seabank Hotel by night
The Seabank Hotel by night

Seabank owner Silvio Debono has revealed filing a €150 million bid for a land reclamation project which includes real estate, in an interview with the Report Company, an international business magazine.

“We are also interested in land reclamation and are investing €150 million,” Debono said.

Contacted by MaltaToday, Debono confirmed his interest in land reclamation but refused to reveal any details on the site earmarked for the massive project.

Debono said that it would be inopportune to divulge any information because of the pending selection process being undertaken by the government after a call for expressions of interest was issued last year.

In his interview Debono also revealed that his company is looking for international partners.

“We are not looking so much for partners with liquidity; the most important thing is that they will have the connections to bring clients to buy the apartments.”

He also revealed that he was “thinking of going to China” to start looking for partners.

“It is all in the pipeline and I am very enthusiastic about this,” Debono said in the interview.

Last week MaltaToday revealed that a new company owned by Adrian Buttigieg and Saviour Ellul, who are also partners in the Malta National Aquarium, has presented another land reclamation bid.

When contacted Ellul did not reveal the site identified for this purpose or whether the development consists of an artificial island or an extension of the coast.

“It is up to the government to publish the bids and we await the government’s directions on which sites will be considered and what sort of development will be allowed,” he said.

21 land reclamation proposals are currently being assessed by a government committee evaluating a new series of mega-projects that range from a motor sport racing track, to floating villages, business centres and hotel resorts.

Bidders for land reclamation projects have signed a confidentiality agreement in which they acknowledge the government’s discretion as to whether or not it issues a competitive tender after the initial bids are analysed by the Government Property Division.

Bidders had to pay a €5,000 fee for the expression of interest, and were bound by a confidentiality agreement not to disclose to third parties any information contained in the EOI documents, for the next three years.

Last month MaltaToday revealed that the construction of an artificial island along the coast road opposite Qalet Marku is one of the preferred options among the 21 land reclamation proposals made, which are currently being considered.

No policy currently exists to regulate land reclamation but the new Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED), which is set to replace the structure plan, includes a reference to land reclamation.

Debono recounts humble origins

In the interview Debono, who owns the Seabank group, spoke about his humble beginnings as a waiter. “After working as a barman for a while, there was an opportunity to take on a small tearoom and that’s when I started my own business.”

Debono recounted how he bought a small guesthouse to turn it into the SeaBank Hotel.

“I didn’t have the money, but because he used to see me working seven days a week and 16-hour days, we made an agreement for me to become a partner without paying a single penny, based on profits. We started with a restaurant, then I opened a bar, then a discotheque, then a pizzeria and it was a success.”

Debono also revealed that at the time of the first extension of the hotel from a nine-room guesthouse to an 80-room hotel he only had €120,000 when he needed €1.9 million.

“That’s when I decided to become a contractor, because my thinking was that if I am a contractor and I do this project and I earn 30%, it means that by the time that I open I would have €600,000 as a profit to put into the hotel.”

In the same interview Debono also announced the opening of a new hotel in Malta in three or four years’ time. “In three or four years’ time we are going to open a third hotel in Malta,” he said.

The MEPA board approved the controversial extension of the Seabank Hotel on agricultural land in February 2010 despite objections by environmentalists. 

Debono had backed a proposal by former Minister Austin Gatt to relocate a the Ghadira coast road in a bid to extend the beach right up to the hotel. But the government halted the project after environmentalists objected to the new road passing right behind the Ghadira nature reserve.