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Thursday, March 4, 2021

Villaggio mall begins extension project

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Amid ongoing legal proceedings over a fire that killed 19 people last year, Villaggio Mall is embarking on a new expansion project.

This month, hoardings and posters conveying the plans could be seen around the location of the extension – a former car park at the west end of the mall near the cinema entrance.

Cars have been directed away from the building site for several weeks, causing considerable congestion during peak times.

A Villaggio employee told Doha News that the mall’s VIP parking area is being expanded to try to compensate for the loss of space.

Although no tenancy agreements have yet been signed for the new wing, it’s thought that it will mainly house restaurants and cafes, said the employee, who asked to remain anonymous to protect his job.

American chain the Cheesecake Factory is believed to be one outlet close to signing a deal.

No time-frame for the construction project has been made available, and Villaggio management has not responded to requests for comment.

Uncertainty

Though the mall faced criticism when it re-opened its fire-damaged section three months ago, this latest extension appears to reflect the fact that Villaggio remains a popular attraction for Qatar residents and visitors.

It’s understood that permission for the extension was granted before last year’s fire on May 28.

On that day, 19 expats – including 13 children, four employees of the Gympanzee daycare and two firefighters – died after smoke from an electrical fire at a nearby shop spread to Gympanzee, trapping its inhabitants and eventually suffocating them.

In June, a Doha court found two mall officials liable for the deaths, saying they could have been prevented had Villaggio taken a more serious approach to fire safety.

Villaggio chairman Abdul Aziz Mohammed Al Rabban and manager Tzoulios Tzouliou were sentenced to six years in jail for involuntary manslaughter.

Appeals

The two, along with Sheikh Ali Bin Jassim Al Thani, Qatar’s Ambassador to Belgium and co-owner of Gympanzee; and Iman Al-Kuwari, daughter of Qatar’s culture minister and co-owner and manager of Gympanzee, were sentenced to the maximum term allowed.

One further defendant, Mansour Nasir Fazzaa al-Shahwani from the Ministry of Business and Trade, was sentenced to five years. He was responsible for giving Gympanzee its permit.

Two others, Rima Itani, the mall’s assistant manager, and Ahmad Muhammad Abdul Rahman, the mall’s head of security, were cleared of all charges.

The guilty parties are currently appealing their sentences, and remain free pending the conclusion of the case, which is expected to be heard by the Appeals Court this month.

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