Starlite, the annual international music festival that has been running in Marbella for six summers, is threatening to pull out of the resort next year.
The move comes amid increasing tension between event organisers and Marbella council over closing times after concerts and uncertainty over operating licences.
The latest dispute, that was aired in public last week, centres on disagreement over whether Starlite should be legally defined as a ‘festival’, and so entitled to special privileges in how long it can stay open each night, or a normal nightspot which has to adhere to stricter rules.
The 45-night event, which was originally branded as Starlite Marbella but is now advertised as Starlite Festival as relations with the town hall have soured, started on the Costa del Sol in 2012. This year it has featured many major international names in concert, including Elton John, Luis Fonsi, Art Garfunkel and Andrea Bocelli.
It's all about the Lounge
The current dispute isn’t about the concert stage, which is located in an old hillside quarry in the Nagüeles area of the resort, but the bar and after-show area known as the Starlite Lounge just alongside.
Organisers say that as the event is a festival, the Starlite Lounge should be allowed blanket permission to close anytime up to 6am. Marbella council says no, that the law says 2am on weekdays, 3am at weekends, with only ad hoc permission to open later until 6am. Failure to give permission every day means the events cannot be planned properly and risks their viability and jobs, says Starlite. It claims it is being unfairly treated by the mayor.
The organisers’ frustration reached boiling point early on Thursday last week when two Local Police officers turned up at 2am after a Gypsy Kings concert to check the venue was closing. Both sides confirmed afterwards that all was in order on the visit.
However Starlite issued a statement in which organisers said they were considering other resorts in Spain to move to and starting legal action for what they call “obstructive and illegal behaviour”. They say jobs are being put at risk.
The mayor of Marbella, José Bernal, has denied any sort of persecution, saying that Starlite has “had the utmost support”. He says that he can’t give permission for it to close “whenever it likes” as the law doesn’t allow him to.
Some have suggested, however that the council’s actions are politically motivated.
Other nightspot organisers have been complaining about Starlite’s perceived late opening for a while. Last year a lawyer and founder of the left-wing Podemos party locally made an official complaint.
Marbella’s mayor relies on the support of Podemos’s two councillors to keep him in power. Podemos had complained to the mayor on Thursday that “the Starlite Festival was allegedly not honouring its opening timetable”. Hours later the police attended the venue.
Former PP mayor of Marbella, Ángeles Muñoz, who first authorised the event in 2012, has hit out at the current PSOE mayor and blamed instability in the minority local administration led by José Bernal. She said that the council was acting “on the whim of councillors, in this case Podemos”, saying the dispute is bad for the town’s image.
Employees at Starlite demonstrated against the town hall last week. “It’s not fair the constant harassment and damage that’s being done,” said Elena Suárez, one employee. A spokesperson for Starlite added:“Starlite gives work to over 800 people in the area, many of those being local suppliers.”
The mayor said he was bemused by the fuss, explaining the problem is with the after-concert club- lounge that can only open until 2am on weekdays, 3am at weekends and until 6am when the council gives special permission.
He said that, despite the event organisers saying it is a ‘festival’, deserving longer-term late opening permits, his hands were tied by Andalusian law and said the rules had to apply to everyone.
He also explained that if the event moved elsewhere in Andalucía, “they are going to have the exact same timetables [for the lounge] and the same conditions”.
Speaking out on the issue, the Junta de Andalucía has said it is working on legislation to clarify these type of events.
The head of the Junta in Malaga, José Luis Espejo said in the face of the latest controversy that the proposed new law, expected to come into force next summer, will be more flexible in solving problems faced by events like Starlite.
“We want Starlite to stay in Marbella, as in our view we have to support these types of economic and leisure activities that favour this region.” he said.
Last week’s events are just the latest in a series of tense exchanges with local authorities. This year Starlite only received its overall operating licence a few days before the first concert started.
The licence was delayed as the old quarry site is a protected natural area and permission from the Junta de Andalucía to rent it out for concerts had expired. A renewal was delayed as the Junta said that Starlite had installed a permanent wall on the site, which it wasn’t allowed to do. Once the wall was removed, permission was granted just in time but only for one year and at an increased cost.
Starlite has said it is impossible to plan an event with major international artists in advance if it does not have longer-term operating licences in place.