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MALTATODAY 13 November 2022

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12 NEWS maltatoday | SUNDAY • 13 NOVEMBER 2022 FOR over 40 years, the derelict 'Chalet' structure stood as a re- minder of its past glory, a popu- lar dancehall and venue for jazz bands, which was now attract- ing daredevils jumping into the sea from its platform held up by sea-corroded pillars. But in 2006, public opposition to a 'ship'-shaped restaurant jut- ting from Għar id-Dud, a project tied to an underground car park that would have endangered the sea caves beneath, forced a backtracking by the Nationalist government. Instead the admin- istration proceeded to clear the structures, opening the lower platform to bathers and yoga practitioners who often congre- gate there in the early morning hours. Now, 16 years down the line, it is the Labour government which has issued a second call for bid- ders to redevelop the site into a "superior quality" catering and entertainment establishment, relying on development brief is- sued following a public consulta- tion in 1999. In the absence of a public con- sultation, MaltaToday caught up with four prominent Slimiżi ask- ing them what should be done at the Chalet. And unsurprisingly, opinions are split between nostalgia for a magical place whose memory remained intact among the el- derly, and a reticence over more development in Malta's densest locality. 83-year-old Gloria Mizzi, a pi- oneer of Maltese broadcasting who served on the Sliema local council in the 1990s and early noughties, is still enthralled by memories of the Chalet before it closed down in the 1963. "There was excitement, fun and music... all you needed was a good band and the place came to life," Miz- zi recalls. Often dubbed a 'place of sin' by the more prudish of elders in those days Mizzi says the Chalet offered "pleasant and clean fun... the elderly always say such things when they are close to heaven." Mizzi has no doubts when asked what should be done with the Chalet even if she acknowl- edges the difficulty in keeping the place open in winter and autumn when the Għar id-Dud promenade is overwhelmed by the spectacular north-eastern- ly Gregale winds. "It should be rebuilt exactly as it once was, with the same name as a place of dance and music... it would be a great asset for Sliema," she says, hoping the authorities do not repeat the "mistake" of not rebuilding the Valletta opera house as it was. And no kiosk, either – the promenade has enough of those. "I think that's what investors would also think. I'd welcome any effort to give Sliema back this asset." Even Frank O'Neil, a retired Stella Maris College teacher and popular entertainer, is all for resurrecting the Chalet, but makes an allowance for the use of modern architecture. "I would respect the structure there was but introduce a modern, sleek, neo-Art Deco style. Perhaps part of the lower level can actually be underwater, just like the Nation- al Aquarium." Not everyone wants to see the site redeveloped, keeping in mind how Sliema has changed since 1963, with over-develop- ment being a fact of life, and its pavements overtaken by com- mercial establishments and al freso tables. Although he does not remem- ber the old Chalet, Michael Briguglio, a popular, former Sliema councilor and sociolo- gist, understands the nostalgia evoked by this place, in which his late grandfather Joseph Lu- cia once played as a drummer in a bluegrass band. As it hap- pens Briguglio himself is an es- tablished rock drummer. But he himself had led the campaign against the commercialisation of Għar id-Dud at the time of the first tender, recalling the impor- tant role played by the late Na- tionalist MP Robert Arrigo – a former Sliema mayor – in the government's decision to back- track on the project and for the structures to be demolished in 2006. While making an allowance for "making the place more acces- sible," Briguglio is happy with leaving the place as it is now. "It is not true that this place now serves no purpose. Since the old structure has been demolished, the place has taken a life of its own, being frequented not just by bathers but people who get some mindfulness and relaxa- tion, even congregating there to practice yoga." And he shoots down the "men- tality that we have to develop everything". "There is great val- ue in having a place where peo- ple can simply relax. This place now has a social and psychologi- cal value which would be eroded if the place is commercialised." Briguglio notes that Sliema has changed a lot since the closure of the Chalet in 1963, and even from 1999 when the last public From 'sinful place' to mindfulness: how Slimizi envisage Chalet future Should Sliema's Chalet be rebuilt back as its heyday dancehall, or a landmark showcasing modern architecture? Or should it remain just part of the coast, a place for people to swim and even practice yoga? Four prominent Slimiżi have their say over a call for bids to turn the site into a catering and entertainment establishment L-R: Michael Briguglio, Gloria Mizzi, Frank O'Neil and Edward Said JAMES DEBONO "There is great value in having a place where people can simply relax. This place now has a social and psychological value which would be eroded if the place is commercialised."

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