IN JANUARY 1959 a small news item in the Daily Mail read: ‘The Rock of Gibraltar, symbol of steadiness and stern, stolid Victorian virtues is to go gay in a continental fashion’.
Translating the dated journalism, it referred to the arrival of Gibraltar’s first casino, designed to lure high rollers from Monaco and the French Riviera and supplement the coffers of the dwindling British garrison.
Those days are long gone but for years after it closed, guests at the neighbouring Rock Hotel would ask if the casino was open.
And so it remained, a crumbling eyesore in the most visited part of town, overlooking the cable car station and the Alameda Botanical Gardens. No one wanted to touch it, especially as there are huge Victorian-era water tanks buried beneath it which are highly valued historically by Gibraltar’s heritage groups.
But lady luck has finally turned up, albeit in the shape of a man – one who happens to be the Rock’s richest resident and something of a gambler himself, in terms of the sheer scale of the properties he builds.
Greg Butcher is a seasoned developer whose prestigious chrome and glass mega projects are stamped all over the Rock: the World Trade Centre, Ocean Village and Ocean Spa Plaza, to name but three.
Now he is bankrolling the casino’s renaissance as the new desirable place to live in Gibraltar, having worked out a way to preserve history while creating one of the most exciting projects Gibraltar has yet seen. The casino will be demolished by hand, virtually brick by brick, to prevent damage to the prized water tanks.
Butcher has long seen the potential of the site and in late 2018, he submitted an application for use of the Old Casino site to the Development Planning Commission (DPC).
“To put it all together will create huge satisfaction and we can make it look beautiful”
His idea had to be good as the commission is made up of government bigwigs and environmental and heritage groups. But his blueprint for The Reserve impressed them and last month this human dynamo finally got the green light for his ambitious 111-apartment complex.
The posh new residential enclave rising up in its place will range from eight-to-10 storeys in height to command the best views of Morocco across the Gibraltar Strait. And it will be the most ecological building on the Rock.
Not to be outdone by the botanical gardens it overlooks, it will have one of its own growing on the rooftop, a natural habitat planted with shrubs and at least 46 trees that will double the number on the site now.
“We will coat our buildings in green,” Butcher told the Olive Press. “And they are not small trees either; they’re large, not little saplings.”
Based on feedback from the DPC, the roof garden was preferred to solar panels to mitigate the visual impact from the upper rock nature reserve, he added.
Rainwater harvesting will be a key element of the design, along with an onsite de-chlorination system to recycle waste water from the complex swimming pools.
And there will be charging points for electric cars in a 150-space parking zone.
After the paperwork and hand demolition is completed, the build is expected to take two-and-a-half years.
The plans include getting rid of the dodgy limestone wall which is a concern for drivers and walkers.
When asked about his motivation for embarking on a project that was never going to be straightforward, Butcher said: “We really get into these schemes. What you have there is ugly and it’s unsafe, both for road users and pedestrians as there is no pavement to get by.
“To put it all together will create huge satisfaction and we can make it look beautiful.”