Porto Tolle, from energy to tourism

Porto Tolle, from energy to tourism

Porto Tolle. For almost 20 years it produced a tenth of Italy’s entire power output. Then, at the start of the Noughties, the Italian energy scene began evolving and the power station was gradually phased out, finally ceasing production altogether in 2009 before being decommissioned in 2015. Within four years, all that was left of this industrial area in the Po Delta (to the south of Venice) was its 250-metre smokestack, which is also Italy’s tallest. Towering straight up out of the plains, it will not only continue to act as a beacon to guide vessels negotiating the waters of the lagoon but also for the future of the entire Polesine area. It is a new opportunity for environmental redevelopment and sustainable tourism.

In 2023, the site will reopen as an innovative and sustainable tourist hub. Delta Farm, as it will be known, is the work of Human Company, a Florence-based group which is also Italy’s leading open air tourism specialist, with four million visitors per year. 

Details of the site’s redevelopment were unveiled during a press conference on June 28 at Palazzo Balbi in Venice, the seat of the Veneto Regional Council. Participants included Veneto Region President Luca Zaia, Enel CEO Francesco Starace, Claudio Cardini and Marco Galletti, respectively President and CEO of Human Company, and the Mayor of Porto Tolle Roberto Pizzoli. The press conference also provided the opportunity to announce the signing of the preliminary sales contract to transfer ownership of the site, which is located in a unique UNESCO World Heritage and Biosphere Reserve, to Human Company.

Great teamwork

Finding a project to replace the power station was far from easy. It was not a straightforward process of simply installing a new business but of finding a proposal, shared with the local communities, that would guarantee a level of development and employment comparable to the old oil-burning industrial plant which for so many years was one of the main pillars of North-Eastern Italy’s electricity system. “There was still an ongoing attempt to convert Porto Tolle to coal, but it had no future,” Starace recalled. “So we decided to open ourselves up to new ideas, any kind of idea, so long as they involved a feasible project that everyone would be able to agree on – the local institutions, businesses and associations and, most especially, management and the trade unions.”

This is the deeper, more profound significance of our programme which aims to redevelop the thermoelectric power stations not in use any longer and one former mining area across Italy. 

In 2016, with the support of the Milan Politecnico, our Group launched a call for plans for the sale and redevelopment of the Porto Tolle site. It specified that the proposals be sustainable from a social, environmental and economic point of view. After careful evaluation, the judging committee selected Human Company’s proposal. “Everyone was on the same page about this project and it is interesting to note that in the end, the number of jobs that will be created will be greater than the number of employees who worked at the power station,” Starace added.

“We are delighted about this signing and this important investment which will allow us to deliver on our development goals through an authentic tourism-focused conversion of a UNESCO World Heritage Site like Porto Tolle,” declared Galletti, who went on to say: “Creating jobs for the local community and substantial economic activity makes us even prouder to be driving this major project with Enel.”

Galletti also noted that Human Company offers a “low environmental impact, very high quality holiday format at a good price” which will be open to everyone and offer contact with the natural world. The Porto Tolle site will follow that same approach. Only the chimney of the old power station will remain while the rest of the structure will be demolished or repurposed, if useful to the new project. For Starace, “This is a major circular economy exercise: everything that is taken down will be reused or recycled.”

Driving development in the Polesine area

Human Company will be investing around 60 million euro in creating the new tourist hub, while Enel will contribute to the demolition work. Delta Farm will be located in the southern area of the old power station and cover 110 hectares, 20 of which will be woodland. It will be able to welcome up to 8,000 tourists per day, offering a variety of open air facilities, ranging from caravan pitches (2,000-2,200) to new generation mobile homes. There will also be spaces for commercial businesses, artisan workshops, local entrepreneurs, fish markets and those selling local food and produce from the Polesine area as well as flower-growing. It is estimated that 400 direct jobs will be created. 

More specifically, the project will involve the creation of an open air tourist village, a water sports hub, a visitor centre to showcase the superb local environment and landscape and a centre to help develop traditional agricultural and fish-based production.

Delta Farm aims to use environmental sustainability, innovation and redevelopment of the local area to attract international tourists to a region which, according to the Open Air Tourism Survey carried out by Human Company and Travel Appeal, is number 1 on the list for Italians and foreign tourists who chose the open air formula

According to Porto Tolle’s Mayor Roberto Pizzoli, the facility “could mark a real turning point not just for our municipality but for the Delta as a whole with positive impacts for the whole of the Veneto Region.” The Region’s President Luca Zaia is also very satisfied with the project: “The redevelopment of the area offers Veneto a redevelopment model that we intend to turn into an example to be followed and adapted in other regional contexts. It is an innovative project made possible in part by the strategic alliance between Enel, the Municipality and Human Company.”

A work in progress: looking forward to 2023

The timeline for the creation of the new tourist village, Galetti explained, is 36 months, running from the demolition process all the way to the end of the environmental planning. Part of the demolition work has already begun, in fact. “We have started removing the boilers and insulation materials,” confirmed Starace. “For now, we still need to do some specific planning in some parts of the site aimed at creating the new tourist village, particularly the ones where the campers will go. We are working with on that with Arpa. Once that phase is completed, the demolition and reconstruction work proper will begin but the two things will happen parallel to one another”. The goal, concluded Galletti, is to open Delta Farm for the 2023 tourist season: “We believe that we can achieve something really unique in this area that will become an international attraction. And the former power station’s smokestack will become its symbol.”

A renaissance that embraces values of sharing, the circular economy and sustainability. Which are, of course, also central to our Group strategy.