Shock and disappointment in Malaga as Antonio Banderas pulls out of flagship cultural project

Seguí (left), Banderas and García (behind) with the mayor.
Seguí (left), Banderas and García (behind) with the mayor. / S. Salas
  • The Malaga actor was stung by the criticism over his ideas with architect José Seguí for the Astoria cinema site and plans for its future are now in chaos

It seemed a perfect marriage. The mayor of Malaga, Francisco de la Torre, had been given a winning idea for a building on the forever-controversial site of the old Astoria and Victoria cinemas in the city centre, and Antonio Banderas finally had an outlet for his dream of giving the city of his birth a major cultural centre.

However the dream very quickly turned sour this week, when the famous Hollywood actor, who has recently been spending a lot of time in Malaga, wrote a public letter in the daily Spanish SUR withdrawing his involvement in the iconic project.

It came after some opposition councillors had unsuccessfully tried to get the public competition he had won for the scheme cancelled and a storm of social media innuendo about unsubstantiated irregularities and fraud.

The site of the old Astoria cinema has been a long-standing thorn in the side of Malaga’s mayor. The buildings, on the south-east side of the city’s historic Plaza de la Merced, near Picasso’s birthplace, have been empty and neglected since 2004. In 2010 the council bought them for 21 million euros with a view to creating a new cultural space.

Last year, a public competition was finally announced for an initial design concept for the site.

Over seventy entries were submitted and the judging panel reviewed them anonymously. When the winner’s envelope was opened, to most people’s delight it was a scheme by architect José Seguí with the support of Antonio Banderas and Sandra García-Sanjuan, who is behind Marbella’s Starlite festival.

The project focused on a venue for stage arts, including theatre, dance and music, in a mostly well-received, modernist design that some social media users nicknamed ‘the glass microwave’. However, despite the euphoria, problems were already beginning.The competition was non-binding, in that the winner had the option to bid to go on and build and manage the project on a concessionary basis. Seguí and Banderas showed enthusiasm about going ahead in a further open competition.

Controversy grows

Malaga’s mayor, Francisco de la Torre, courted controversy by seeming to suggest that there should be no second-round open competition at all, so favouring Banderas.

He then changed the message to say that if there were to be one, it would be wise to choose people to build and run the site with “international stature”.

This was perceived by many opposition councillors, most of whom supported the Banderas project, as unfair bias in favour of the actor in an open contest, some calling it “banderismo”.

As the plans were two storeys higher than regulations permitted, there was also some unhappiness that the scheme was getting attention when other ideas for the site in previous years had been turned down for being too high.

The vacillations of the councillors and a small but vociferous social media campaign against the plan have made the actor think again, to the shock and disappointment of the city.

People came to the defence of the project, unable to understand how the city “had wasted the opportunity”. But the decision has been taken, as Banderas stated week.

The actor says he will look for another way to give Malaga a cultural legacy, but from the private sector, and the mayor will now have to look for other ideas for this eternally controversial site.