It was in 1992 that Mateo Álvarez formally gave his 12,000 square metre piece of land and the 17th century Trapiche del Prado building, which used to be part of the local sugar industry, to the council so they could build a home for the elderly. The almost 26 years which have passed since then have been full of ups and downs and the project has still not come to fruition, to the disgust of Mateo's family and to the detriment of residents of Marbella, a town which, even now in 2018, has no residential home of this type. However, it looks as if the Trapiche's luck may be changing.
It seems that the council has made some progress and is hoping the works to shore up the old building can begin in December. This has to be done so that an inspection can be carried out of the sugar mill, and plans drawn up for its restoration. The local authority has also begun discussions with the Malaga branch of the regional government's Cultural department, about obtaining authorisation for specific plans and an exact location within the plot for the construction of a residential home for the elderly. It has assigned 10 million euros from the municipal budget plus EU funding for the project.
"This would comply with my great-uncle's wishes, which were stated in the agreement under which he signed over the Trapiche," says Victoria Martín. Together with Fernando Martín Álvarez and Fernando Álvarez Cantos, Mateo's nephews, she has spent years defending his interests and trying to overcome the obstacles which kept blocking progress in the project.
Previously, it was her father, José Luis Martín, (who in 2015 was posthumously awarded the title of Honorary Citizen), who held the reins of an initiative which at times which seemed doomed to oblivion.
"We have been through some very bad times," says Fernando Álvarez, such as during the time of Jesús Gil, when the Trapiche building was turned into stables, and when another mayor from the same party (GIL) "offered us a strange business opportunity and even money if we would sign a Town Hall document agreeing they didn't have to fulfil our uncle's wishes".
The uncertainty continued until, in 2008, the construction of the home for the elderly was finally announced and the first stone was laid. However, the construction company filed for bankruptcy shortly afterwards. "It was another obstacle, after all the others. Now we are trying to ensure that the different administrations do come to an agreement, because we have been through some very black periods," explains Fernando Martín, who says that the former mayor, José Bernal, while in power, offered to forgo the project and return the property to the family.
Before that, there had been another failure in the attempt to fulfil Mateo Álvarez's wishes. The construction of the residence seemed to be getting nearer in 2002, when an agreement signed with Mensajeros de la Paz also fell through.
Marbella council now says that it is keen to restore the Trapiche building and construct the residential home, and it has money to do it. In addition to the nearly ten million euros from the corruption scandal compensation funds set aside for the project, they have obtained another 4.6 million from the European EDUSI funds specifically for the restoration of the sugar mill.
"We are talking about two different projects here but they are connected and we want to develop them together, although obviously the works will progress at a different speed," explains Marbella's general director of Culture, Carmen Díaz.
Last week there was a meeting in Malaga at which council representatives gave the Junta de Andalucía's provincial Culture Delegation the plans for the two initiatives. The first urgent works will be the consolidation of the Trapiche building, which Carmen Diaz says should begin in December as authorisation was granted by the Junta in February and the document only needs to be signed. Now the local authority has also put on the table the idea of building a home for the elderly on the same plot. "What we are going to do is send the Junta the existing plans so they can study them and explain the conditions they would require so we can get to work," says the councillor for Works, Javier García.
Because this is a protected property, a series of conditions will be imposed. Aspects such as the topography of the terrain, which is on different levels, will have to be studied, as will the amount of building which is permitted and the size of new building, and the visual impact of the project. "There are different procedures which will have to be followed for each project, but what we want to do is be able to carry them out together," says Javier García.
In fact, the residence and the sugar mill will be linked, and not just because they will both be on the plot of land ceded 26 years ago by a Marbella resident. The idea of the Culture Department is to use part of the sugar factory, once restored, as communal areas for the senior citizens' home. The remainder will be used for cultural purposes.
"We blame the politicians for the delay," say Mateo Álvarez's relatives, "although for years we have lacked support from the public to carry out the wishes of our uncle. We have felt very alone. It is only now that the survey has been carried out that we have seen that Marbella does support the project. We just want it to be done now. It has taken far too long."