Brugnaro and the basketball stadium – “Conflict of interest in Venice”


Purchased in 2006, these 44 hectares were State property. The Mayor purchased them at a cost of 5 million. “I will not do anything in this area”, he promised, speaking of his holdings. Now he is pushing for the construction of a sports stadium, putting on a show in Council between tears and trophies.

By Gian Antonio Stella

“I will not do anything in this area. Because it is right. It would be a conflict of interests. I will make this clear immediately. Very clear”. Just recently PD Councilor Monica Sambo distributed the record of the solemn oath sworn during the electoral campaign (Saturday, March 21, 2015, at the centro Santa Maria delle Grazie in Mestre) by Mayor Luigi Brugnaro, and the “Brugnariani” raised an uproar the likes of which could drown out a cacophony of trombones, oboes and saxophones. It was impossible to recite this embarrassing list. For the Mayor’s part, he had already left. In his place, at the Mayor’s seat in City Council, he left his symbol: the basketball championship cup won by Reyer. His team, which wanted to play in his arena. Built on his (polluted) land. With his approval. Across the bridge which leads to his Venice.

It is a conflict of interest that is rocking the city, embittering the opposition, while appearing to be only a banal detail to his local supporters, who are united in greeting each of the Mayor’s statements with a lump in the throat (“we’ve brought the banner here after 74 years!”) and in covering up the “boooo” of every challenge. The subject, though, remains: is it appropriate, while it is admittedly legal, for a Mayor to push building a sports complex on his own land, which would open the gates, accuse the enemies of the project, for construction nearby of “a 700 room hotel, a commercial center, a luxury rest home for the aged, townhomes and a casino moved from Tessera”?

Yes, he responds. Did not Vittorio Valletta and Gianni Agnelli say that “that which is good for Fiat is also good for Italy” or Silvio Berlusconi that “that which is good for Mediaset is also good for the country”? Brugnaro, son of a worker on the Left and a teacher, with a degree in architecture, and capable of wresting the City from the power of the Left two and half years ago, seems convinced: his interests are Venice’s interests, see what a coincidence!, they intersect. At the center of the controversy, as has been noted, are 44 hectares of abandoned land to the right of the Ponte della Liberta which heads for Venice. This is land which belonged to the State, and which Brugnaro himself purchased in 2006 for 5 million, when he was only a businessman and appeared not to have political ambitions. His was the only offer: “But you have to have the money”. Originally it was slated to become a “Green Urban Development”, like the nearby area of San Giuliano Park. Then they began to come up with bigger plans. More ambitious. Such as those found in the study by architect Luciano Parenti. These futuristic projections cheered the “pro-development” types and froze the blood of the environmentalists.

Already hot during the electoral campaign, when the future mayor explained that he had bought these hectares “so they wouldn’t end up in the hands of the usual speculators from Milan or Rome (I’ll manage them when I have finished being mayor”) the subject has become even hotter. It finally blew up a month ago when Nicola Pellicani and Andrea Ferrazzi of the PD, in the wake of strong opposition and a series of “statements” regarding Ching Chiat Kwong’s appetite for Lagoon property, asked during questioning if this celebrated magnate from Singapore had really made an offer to purchase the area for such an exorbitant price: from 150 to 200 million euro. Or actually, as Giovanni Pelizzato (lista civica Casson) and Elena La Rocca (M5S) suspect, over 360 million. Quite a deal, for a piece of land that cost 5 million. “You should be ashamed of yourself! It is outrageous and defamatory to be asked to deal with these questions!” thundered “Gigio” Brugnaro in a City Council meeting called by opponents (13 against 23 on the right) who are collecting signatures. And he accused: “These are things that will chase away investors”. He swore: “A phone call would have been enough! Signatures aren’t needed! However it is an opportunity to give a public opinion and most of all a clear indication to the owners of the property”.

Ah, sighed the mayor, how nice it would be if everyone collaborated like in the times of John Adams and “the angry and the jealous would just stop”! Irony on the left, enthusiasm on the right: “Yesss! Just so!”. “Which conflicts of interest, they are accidents! Which? To lose money every year in order to defend the future, for what can be done, of Murano glass? Reyer? Here: Reyer is my heart and my passion, costing millions of euro a year without any public contribution, and it has inspired generations of Venetians to dream!”. But how can they?: I renounced my salary, I don’t ask for expense reimbursements, I pay my parking “like normal citizens” and they keep dragging out conflicts of interest? “I’ve established, first of all, a “blind trust” where all my business interests have been brought together and which will be managed by a trustee, the New York lawyer Ivan A. Sacks”. All “to separate myself completely from my businesses”. He thought that the “meanness” would stop. Not really: Felice Casson and the 5 Star members and others are still there to tell him that a “blind trust” could work well “for the management of affairs but that he, the mayor-owner, knows quite well that anything done with that land is his”.

The rest he knows too: “to date, to the best of my knowledge, no agreement has been signed with national or international investors”. He knew, in fact, “from public news” that the “company with ownership” (“which is to say always you!”, they laugh from the midst of the hall) “hasn’t assigned any tasks to anyone”. However, he explained amongst the sighs of his supporters, the Basketball Federation has announced that from now on sports arenas must hold at least 15,000 spectators. It has to be done. Otherwise, goodbye….Then? “I believe we have reached the moment that the ownership group of this area feels free, or rather feels obligated to act in order to offer the prospect of a revitalization of the area in question, which is also in the interest of the entire community”. Bingo! “He is talking about his own land”. And nobody asks him, as mayor, to requisition the area he owns: “It would cost the City tens of millions…”.  The conclusion: “I hope that this discussion confirms the intention to present projects and plans of evaluation for the recovery of the area at Pili, with the aim of cleaning up the pollution and of development within it, I hope they will want to place a new sports arena there, the most beautiful and modern possible”. And what of him, the owner, if the City Council itself insists on placing the arena there? Ah, enough, there is not time for such things. He places the trophy in his seat, turns, and goes on his way.

-Corriere della Sera, Veneto, 5 February 2018

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