ARCHITECTURE

Benidorm gets a little closer to the sky

Spain’s mecca of mass tourism is celebrating the completion of Intempo, Europe’s tallest residential tower, achieved despite the dual crises of 2008 and 2020

Mònica Torres

The New York of the Mediterranean is also a city that never sleeps. Benidorm, in Spain’s Alicante province, is now ready to unveil its latest attraction: the biggest residential skyscraper in Europe. The Intempo building is 198 meters high, and home to 256 apartments – but it was a project that nearly ended in disaster, due to the bursting of Spain’s real estate bubble in the early 2000s and the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, however, the two-towered structure topped with a cone is about to receive its certificate of completion, and EL PAÍS is the first news organization to be invited to tour the building now that the work is done.

Construction workers from Dragados, the company hired to complete the project, are still directing traffic inside the building, where the final cleanup is continuing at the same time as potential buyers come to visit the show apartments.

The Intempo has 13,000 square meters of common areas, including an 800-square-meter pool on the ground floor. It takes around seven minutes to walk the 200 meters to the nearby Poniente beach from the building. On the 46th floor, there is another pool, and from the sun loungers you can enjoy a spectacular bird’s-eye view of the city. The 47th floor is the highest point, and is home to common areas. There will be a cocktail bar up there, along with four jacuzzis. The building managers estimate that around 800 people will live in the building in the high season, and that reservations will be needed to access this floor at peak times, such as Saint John’s eve June 23.

The most exclusive apartments are located on the 45th floor. The two residences there boast 300 square meters of space, and have been sold for more than €2 million. The other options include apartments measuring 75 square meters, with two rooms and one bathroom, as well as 95-square-meter options with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and an independent kitchen.

The kitchen of one of the more exclusive apartments in the Intempo building.
The kitchen of one of the more exclusive apartments in the Intempo building.Mònica Torres

All of the apartments have a balcony that looks out to the sea, while many have a rear balcony too, with views of the mountains. The prices started from €250,000, but right now the cheapest option is a 95-square-meter apartment selling for €317,000.

It took many years to get to this point. The fifth-tallest skyscraper in Spain – only exceeded by Madrid’s Cuatro Torres office blocks – has had to overcome several major crises. The keys for the first apartments purchased are expected to be handed over in September, but only 40% of the units have been sold so far. “This is a low percentage compared to what was expected, but in 2020 clients were unable to travel here,” explains Jorge Romagosa, the product manager at the developer Uniq. He is, however, expecting a good summer. “Now that it is finished, the reception has been fantastic,” he says.

The name Intempo evokes a certain resistance to the passing of time, and as such could not have been better chosen. The skyscraper is a symbol of resistance in Benidorm. Just as the popular tourist destination is always visible when you approach the area by sea or land, its urban-planning model has left no one indifferent for the last six decades now.

A common area in the Intempo towers.
A common area in the Intempo towers.Mònica Torres

The city boasts nearly 80 tower blocks over 25 stories high, while 27 of the buildings exceed 100 meters. The result is one of the most recognizable skylines on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. Architect Oscar Tusquets, who created an exhibition about Benidorm that he took to London, is one of its biggest defenders. “Benidorm is the fortunate invention of a mayor with an incredible vision of the future,” he explains via telephone, in reference to Pedro Zaragoza, who was at the head of the local council from 1950 to 1967 and is credited with turning the city into the tourism destination it still is today. “He saw that tourism was headed down a different route and he invented Benidorm along with a top-quality urban planner. The bad thing has been the copycats,” he argues.

This “invention” began in 1956 with an urban plan that gave priority to tower blocks and, according to Tusquets, created the “most interesting modern Mediterranean city, one that provided the best solution for mass tourism.” Why, then, does Benidorm have something of a tarnished reputation? “A certain section of the political left does not like working-class folk very much and these guys from Manchester [in reference to English tourists] who get drunk in Benidorm also cause them certain discomfort. Not for me, I find them very entertaining,” he says with a laugh.

Thriving for six decades as Benidorm has is not a simple task, and nor has the construction of this latest skyscraper in the city been a walk in the park. Building work began in 2006, and the main partners in the project were José Ignacio de la Serna, who died in 2015, and Isidro Bononat. The local businessmen ended up at odds with one another and their management of the project ended up in the courts, which ruled that they were responsible to their creditors. Before then, the project had been sent to Spain’s “bad bank,” the Sareb, which took over a loan that the now-defunct savings bank Caixa Galicia had granted and looked unlikely to be repaid.

“We were interested to see that a Galician lender would grant a loan of this size outside its geographical area,” says a source from Sareb who was involved in the project. The bad bank, he points out, could not take any action – it had only received the debt, while the ownership of the project still lay with Olga Urbana, the original promoter. “They had spent 100% of the loan, but had only built 93%,” the same source explains.

One of the apartments in the Intempo building.
One of the apartments in the Intempo building. Mònica Torres

With the upper part of the building still yet to be completed, the source says, not only was there a danger that Intempo could end up in a huge financial hole, but also there was a “physical risk” should the structure deteriorate.

The bad bank sought an agreement among the creditors so that an administrator could be assigned by a judge and the necessary liquidity could be injected in order to complete the construction. In 2017, the loan was sold on to an investment fund called SVP Global for €108 million. Until the apartments begin to be sold, it will be the owner of 100% of the building, which it remodeled and is marketing with the assistance of Uniq.

The long story is now heading toward a happy ending, with the apartments nearly ready to be lived in. For now, there are more national buyers than international ones, given the travel restrictions of the pandemic. But potential clients also include Russians, French and Germans. From the very top of the building, you will need to overcome any sense of vertigo before you can look down and make out the characteristic view of the beaches dotted with umbrellas and loungers. To the left, an excavator busily working on top of another hill serves as a reminder that in this city of relaxation, the real estate business never rests. Perhaps it’s not too late for Tusquets, who, half-jokingly, says that at the age of 80, he’s been left with the “frustration of not having built a skyscraper in Benidorm.”

English version by Simon Hunter.

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