Viva Moll Vell
Posted Jan. 29, 2015, 12:31 p.m.
PIER 46 IS DEAD-
Viva Moll Vell
By Oscar Siches
I always liked mythology, the simple logic of creating gods and beings to justify the unexplainable that in turn developed the cultural behaviour of ancient nations. In the marina world reference to Poseidon, Eolus and mermaids is immediate and in many of my marina projects the image of the Colossus of Rhodes hangs between the harbour mouth and my imagination, but for the Moll Vell project my choice was definitely Phoenix.
Our company consisted of three partners. In 2001 we took over the running of the Pantalan del Mediterraneo marina concession on the Paseo Maritimo in Palma de Mallorca, it consists of 62 berths for yachts of 20m to 60m. We were successful with our bid at the time and pioneered a few novelties such as offering dedicated telephone lines to all yachts, the first private wifi network in the port and being the first marina that could pump out sewage before it became mandatory.
Our concession ended in 2010 at the same time as the concession for Pier 46, a small rundown marina that sits under the shadow of the ancient Palma, La Seu Cathedral and close to the vibrant old town. To me this stood out as the best possible place for yachts to berth in an area close to the many amenities available in the City. It would take a great deal of work to rebuild the marina, far more than I ever envisaged at the time, and a business decision had to be made quickly to decide our future plans.
The bidding conditions for the concession were tough and, as usual, ignored yachting market needs. The lease would only last a short time, a mere 15 years, and would need a big upfront investment to fund the demolishing of the old harbour administrative block and the construction of a new modern facility dedicated to commercial space. The annual cost of the lease was also very high and would need to be paid annually to the harbour authority, all costs that needed to be recouped over the years ahead. We started to work on the Pier 46 bid first knowing that we would later have to seek a possible second term at Pantalan.
With some yachting and marina experience on my side and a deep knowledge of finance and politics on my partners, we were confident about our skills to run both operations successfully, but, due to the large sums of money that were going to be needed we soon realized that the projects could not be developed by us alone: we needed an investor. The sums needed were just like talking Monopoly money. Unreal! It did not take long to find an interested party, one of the oldest banks in Spain whose director was a keen yachtsman. They would own almost half the shares of the new company and we would be left in charge of managing the marinas.
Bids were presented and a year after we were announced as the winners of the Pier 46 bidding process and Pantalan del Mediterraneo, it was time to start work. We took over Pier 46 in April 2011 and started immediate improvements such as 24h security, fire fighting equipment and emergency training. A new concept in the form of a quayside platform was designed and fitted, an important factor that would allow yachts to stay during the 14 months of work lying ahead of us. I had a new gate fitted with a very particular design (my homage to US architect Frank Lloyd Wright) to "show a new style and way of doing things".
The complicated building permits for the reconstruction of Pier 46 took 16 months to be issued, due in part to the new electrical grid for Palma harbour which had to accommodate our three new transformers. We took this in our stride and then in November 2012 and under the tight scrutiny of the city environmental control agency (the old structure contained asbestos), the bulldozers moved in and flattened the old building.
We managed to reinforce the Pier 46 community that already existed. The place had a spirit of its own and many yachts were happy to stay even with the work going on around them. I did some research and found out that the oldest name to be found for the area was Moll Vell (the old quay), I rather liked this historic touch and from then on the marina was known as Moll Vell.
To add quality (and feasibility) to the project we had proposed that every single module of the new building would feature a basement as an extra service space. It proved to be one of the key factors for us in winning the concession. We now had to start gouging out the build area to reach 2.5m under sea level and to lay the foundations. The new building would sit about 15m from the quay, on refill land. That was like trying to hold water in a strainer. I was thinking that if the Dutch could do it, anybody should be able to do it. The suggestion was made to my partners to engage a Dutch company as consultants and they, of course would be advising a Spanish construction company, this left me feeling a bit nervous.
A specialized firm was duly summoned and after we had sealed the perimeter of the ‘hole’ with steel plates, 16 high flow pumps were installed to keep the water under the level needed for working. A generator was held in stand-by should the electricity fail, we calculated that we had only eight minutes to react to a power cut, otherwise it would betoo late, we would have togo back and start anew.
Those pumps were there for two and a half months and my nights became shorter asI had nightmares involving generators, Biblical floods, Noah and even the Titanic, probably a trick being played by a couple of rebellious brain cells of mine.
Meantime we were progressing with ground work, the platform around the main building proved to work very well and it was enough to cope with the circulation of people and goods, meanwhile the big hole was being filled with huge amounts of concrete and gradually a new building began to sprout from the ground...
The 2013 Palma boat Show arrived. A weird set up that included part of an avenue, our demolition/construction site and the corner of the STP boatyard. We all put a shoulder into it and it worked, and thanks to the new yacht brokers association (BYBA) it became the most successful Palma show in the past 10 years. Three weeks later we hosted the Superyacht Cup which was much easier to deal with thanks to the experience gained at the Boat Show.
Then the old electrical system had to be taken out and we made a provisory installation above ground (but at floor level) with enough junction boxes to service the various yacht configurations. The rest of the old pavements were removed and our mobile offices were moved to STP grounds, the guys at STP were incredibly supportive at all times. It was mid June. Suggestions for innovative additions were made, but most were non-approved by the authorities, "you can innovate if there is a lot of experience with the innovation". I think this is known as the government technical paradox.
Summer in Spain being what it is, July and August passed with a lack of decision making and distracted players on both sides. Most of the piping for services was installed though: water, electricity, lighting, gas, comms, fibre optics, and dozens of spare pipes for the harbour authorities and their wishful approach to improve the area in the future, these last ones condemned to a permanent dormant and forgotten state.
Yachts were enjoying the use of the marina. We fitted a pedestrian door at the City end with a coded lock to shorten the walk into town. In September the cobblestone type pavement started to be laid down in what was going to be the parking area. We had a few interested parties as tenants, all of them from the restaurant business. None was closing a deal. The only serious non-catering related tenant was Oyster Yachts who sat on the fence, unsure of the high rental they would have to pay. In November we managed to finish all of the metalwork and carpentry and to fit the glass. When the units could be seen with the doors, windows and glass panels in place it made a big difference, contracts were signed in less than 45 days for the whole building, we now officially existed. Oyster is on the first floor with their 110m2 offices, and three restaurants occupy the rest of the building.
In February the fitting of services began and came with the usual realization that what was planned on drawings is not necessarily what follows in real life. Undersize ducts, collapsed underground pipes, forgotten electrical points, insufficient places to fit systems, mistaken orders, mistaken deliveries on correct orders ... Nothing an ex yacht captain cannot cope with, but in several cases I had to contend with a sad show of human beings trying to cover their backsides instead of using their energy to right the wrongs.
There was very little left to do now by the construction company, who had behaved perfectly. The first available parking places inside the premises were now available. A second gate was fitted. The biggest restaurant set off on the almost impossible task of building some 900 sqm of lounge, terraces, basement kitchen, bar and boutique in only seven weeks, which was all dependant on paperwork (luckily not too much) by the harbour authority and the town hall.
April 2014 and the Palma Boat show took place again. On the same day that the show started setting up their tents, the masonry workers were laying the last stone slabs of the walkway between the building and the road. The restaurant building team were working weekends and almost through the night, 30+ people set to demonstrate just what can be done with the right attitude. Bets against them were being taken by architects and engineers, who themselves were forced into having to speed up so as not to delay the opening. Transformers were fired up five days before the boat show started, within 48 hours the few (very few) flaws in the installation were repaired. The water system was fired up. Gas. Telephone. Lift. Night illumination.
Our resident yachting community were following with awe the last changes in the building, fearful that more than half of the Marina was to be open to the public, like St Tropez or Monaco. All our client yachts were moved out and the boat show exhibitors arrived. Everything went smoothly even though the restaurant could not open but they presented the beautiful terrace fully dressed for the occasion, creating an atmosphere of class in perfect harmony with the yachting event.
Another milestone was behind us and importantly Moll Vell was starting to function as a real marina. Gratification was felt by all involved in the project from the many messages of congratulation that were received after the 17 months working under very demanding conditions. The restaurant, Port Blanc, made a soft opening on the 12th of May with an inauguration party on the 17th. It was an immediate success.
My feeling (and experience) is that we (all) need the whole summer season and a couple of extra months to be fully ready. The marina has not yet dealt with the hectic transient visitor changes that we expect to be imposed during the summer season, nor with the type of client who generally wants to see and be seen. The restaurants have to attract Palma's residents and visitors alike, the building is a beachhead into the harbour, it belongs emotionally to Palma as the City gets closer to the yachts that bring so much value to its inhabitants. The Balearics Nautical Industry has been trying to explain this to the local politicians for a long time. They have started listening; let's hope this helps convince them.
Mallorca was occupied by the Romans in 120 BC when Palma was founded, their power not to be contested by "the most famous of ancient skilful slingers", Balearics inhabitants at the time were regarded as top mercenaries. Moll Vell was the first attempt by the city to open itself to the sea and has been there since the end of the 14th century, undergoing many changes until now when it lights up the NE corner of Palma harbour.
We feel very thankful and immensely proud of having the opportunity to be a part of Palma's 2134 year history, to be able to give form to the latest re-birth of the Phoenix.