24 May 2016 – Cinco Días
The Canalejas Complex has returned to cruising speed after overcoming one of the obstacles that stood in its path. In April 2015, the Local Heritage Committee (comprising the Town Hall of Madrid and the regional Government) opened an investigation into the construction work that the Villar Mir Group was carrying out, after it detected that damage had been caused in the first bay (the space between load-bearing walls). After months of work, it completed its investigation in January 2016 – confirm sources at the company – and so Villar Mir was allowed to continue with the building work at the site, which will house a Four Seasons Hotel, luxury homes and a shopping arcade right in the centre of the capital.
“The investigation into the first bay was resolved and the suspension (of the building work) was lifted”, explain sources at OHL, the listed company that forms part of the Grupo Villar Mir and which is responsible for developing this complex. The Committee’s investigation was opened by municipal technicians when Ana Botella (PP) was still the mayoress. Sources at Estudio Lamela Aquitectos, which was appointed to design Canalejas, confirm that the construction work has continued as normal since then.
The problem arose when part of the bay, located in a small area, threatened to break off, say sources at the company chaired by Juan Miguel Villar Mir. For the time being, although the investigation has been closed, they do not know whether the listed company will face any financial penalties in the future.
The team led by the Government of Manuela Carmena (Ahora Madrid) has also granted OHL a structural licence to raise the frame of the building, and so construction work has continued apace during the first few months of the year. “We received the structural licence in January”, say sources at Estudio Lamela. “That licence has allowed us to carry out the work that is visible from the outside”, say sources at OHL. Now the only licence pending is the one relating to the completion of the refurbishment.
The project was unblocked at the end of last year by political and legal means. On the one hand, a trial judge dismissed the application to suspend the building works, which had been filed by a company that alleged that it had signed a previous sale and purchase contract with Santander. Villar Mir ended up acquiring this central block for €215 million and whereby took ownership of the properties in the Canalejas area, next to Puerta del Sol.
On the political side, after Carmena took over the reins of the city, the Town Hall decided to review the project and it opened a negotiation table with the company and the regional Government. In October, the parties agreed to reduce the volume of the block at its highest point so as to reduce the visual impact. The agreement meant that the listed company had to relinquish its plans for the height of the building in order to unblock the construction work and accept a lower return on the project.
The last remaining stumbling block now is the public prosecutor, which is continuing its investigation, following a claim by the Madrid, Ciudadanía y Patrimonio Association that an alleged crime has been committed against the historical heritage of the city during this refurbishment.
The renovation involves seven adjoining properties located between Calles de Alcalá, Sevilla, Plaza de Canalejas and Carrera de San Jerónimo. For the last few decades, those historical buildings have housed the headquarters of financial institutions such as Banesto, Central Hispano and Zaragozano.
Original story: Cinco Días (by Alfonso Simón Ruiz)
Translation: Carmel Drake