News | Wednesday, 08 July 2009

Shop owners with mixed feelings over Piano plans

David Darmanin

Shop owners in Freedom Square yesterday expressed mixed feelings over government plans to erect a parliament building in Freedom Square and an open-air theatre on the adjacent site of the Opera House ruins.
To the dismay of shop owners and employees in the area, the Lands Department has this week informed businesses located on the Freedom Square side and those beneath the entrance to the Opera House that they must prepare for relocation by end December.
Operators are left in the dark as to how they will be compensated, although a meeting with Parliamentary Secretary Jason Azzopardi scheduled for today should clarify matters.
“Our grievance is that we have never been consulted on this development,” said Pjazza Antiques owner Alfred Borg. “I can only form an opinion after they talk to us. Until then, I guess we’ll have to just wait and see. We have no idea how we are going to be compensated.”
With an outlet located in Freedom Square and another beneath the Opera House, employees at bag shop Travellers seem to be concerned about their future. Travellers salesman Andrew Camilleri was very upfront in the regard.
“We don’t like it one bit,” he told Business Today. “Our work will be affected for sure. Besides, I think the project is pointless and makes no sense. I have no idea what they’re on about, but there will be problems for sure.”
Plans by world-renowned architect Renzo Piano, who was tasked with the design of the development, show an entrance to the new open-air theatre due to replace existing shops.
“They first told us that the remains of the Opera House will be kept, but then they were cheeky enough to design an entrance passing through our shops,” said Alfio Jewellery owner Alfred Agius. “Nobody consulted us. The way I see it is that when I commission an architect, I give guidelines. They should have done the same, and told Renzo Piano to keep us in mind. We’re talking about the livelihoods of my family and of my employees.
“One of my staff is pregnant, another just got married and another is engaged to be married. We all need to work hard to make a living, and yet, we don’t know what our alternatives are at this stage.”
Agius also criticised the Lands Department for the short notice given for relocation.
“I will not manage to sell my stock in five months. What will I do in December? I don’t want monetary compensation, because I would not know what to do with the money. Will I have to share it with my employees once they are out of a job? What I want is another shop if need be – as attractive and as centrally located. Otherwise we’re all very worried about our future.”
Shops located at City Gate shopping arcade turn out to be the least aggrieved as there is no threat of relocation so far. However, Café Royale owner Clint Giordmaina augured that works will not cause an inconvenience to his operation.
“This is a good project, but there is no question that we will be somewhat affected while it is being completed,” he said. “I hope they finish it fast, if it ever starts. While the project is being developed, we will have to withstand dust, noise and less parking. So over all, I think this is going to be a positive project but it needs to be planned well. I also hope parking facilities will be ample once it is completed. When the park and ride project kicked off, the public may have responded well, but we were negatively affected because shoppers do not want to travel that much while carrying bags.”
Next door, the owner of souvenier shop Capital Kevin Gauci backed up the project in full.
“Something had to be done, and I don’t care if it’s a garden or a parliament,” Gauci said. “I will not be the one to change government’s mind anyway – once they decide, they decide. But as long as the area is embellished, we will benefit. My only hope is that they do not inconvenience any of the Valletta businesses with this development.”



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08 July 2009


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