Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Armengol And The Attic

Attic conversions, as means of acquiring additional living-space, used to be problematic. They still can be. The actual task of renovating the space can demand a certain design ingenuity, depending on the features of the space and the building, and attention to fundamental issues of ventilation, insulation and energy efficiency.

The attic shot to popularity when degraded areas were earmarked for redevelopment. It was to become symbolic of renewal and of gentrification, while areas that were not downtrodden were to also acquire this architectural fad. The attic became the habitat of the pop or film star, one to be highlighted on celebrity pages.

When old urban areas are going through property boom times, the attic - seemingly desirous above all other floors - can attract a hefty price. Palma has such an urban area. Its gentrification has given rise to the boutique hotel and to the redevelopment of residential accommodation. Among the attics of old Palma, one in particular is attracting a great deal of attention. Not because of its actual design virtue but because of who hasn't bought it - Francina Armengol, president of the Balearics.

The attic in question is in a property on Sant Crist street. It is conveniently located for, among other things, the headquarters of the Tax Agency in the Balearics, the Council of Mallorca, of which Francina was once also president, and the Consolat de Mar, the regional government's HQ. The attic, and presidential involvement or not with it, is causing a stink. It needs noting that Armengol hasn't bought it and so therefore doesn't live there, despite its convenient location. So what's all the fuss about?

The storm has been generated by "El Mundo", which has been on the case of Armengol and especially her partner for some while. He, Joan Nadal, is described variously as an entrepreneur, property developer and gardener. He doesn't necessarily engage in mowing any lawns, but he has business interests related to the controversial Villa Cortina in Formentor (its gardens) and to Son Vida. A company of his acquired the property in Sant Crist for two million euros, which would probably have been the last anyone really heard about it had it not been for a presidential signature to buy the whole attic for a price roughly a quarter of what is now the market price.

There are in fact now two separate attic dwellings. They have a combined price of just under four million euros. In early 2013, Armengol and her partner entered into a pre-purchase agreement for 1.25 million. This was backed up with a deposit of a mere 6,000 euros. In the end, the purchase didn't go through, and since the newspaper brought all this into the open, there have been alternative explanations. The presidential one, not that she has directly spoken about it, is that it wasn't in the end to her liking. Her partner's lawyers suggest that it was to "avoid controversy".

Much is being made of the similarities with a property close by that was bought by disgraced former president Jaume Matas. It had a price of just under one million euros. Armengol once said of this that it was "difficult to understand" how Matas was able to fund such a purchase and attacked it for its "ostentation". While Matas and indeed the property in question have been occupying the thoughts of investigating judge José Castro, there is no suggestion of anything illegal with the attic. Political opponents, including Podemos, a partner in government, are having something of a field day, but David Abril of Més is one to have stated that the attic is not comparable with the Matas "palacete". He sees nothing illegal, but he does see, as do others in Més as well as Podemos and probably some in PSOE, a need for greater clarification.

The Partido Popular insists that Armengol lied about having had any involvement with the attic and about the credit to be made available for its purchase from Sa Nostra, albeit that Sa Nostra has, since 2010, been almost a symbolic part of BMN into which it was integrated. Armengol, says PP spokesperson Marga Prohens, has lost all "credibility" because of this.

Sa Nostra features more widely. It apparently loaned Armengol's partner's company - one for the development of the Sant Crist property - 6.8 million euros, while it is seemingly a common link with other business interests that Joan Nadal has. Podemos and Ciudadanos, meanwhile, have been pressing for a commission to be established to investigate the restructuring of Sa Nostra, hinting at benefits to political parties. PSOE had itself been calling for an investigation when it was in opposition but is now reluctant for there to be one.

Although the purchase of the attic didn't go ahead, the affair is awkward for Armengol. Perhaps above all else, for a socialist president, there is the "ostentation" charge she levelled at Matas. That is now haunting her.

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