Sari Club Site Will Be New Fun-Night Scene

Ground Zero: The Sari Club site as it stands today.

LEGIAN ~ Businessman Kadek Wiranatha has finally revealed his long-suspected plan to build a bar and restaurant on the site of the bombed Sari Club. And he has made it clear he will proceed regardless of what critics of the proposal, including the Australian-based Bali Peace Park Association, which wants it reserved as a place of reflection and memory, might think.
Wiranatha, widely known for his penchant for expensive Jaguar motorcars, said this week – through his business associate and lawyer, Putu Oka Semadi – that six months ago he paid the owner, a Jakarta investor named as Sukmanto, the full value of the 30-year lease on the land as a business investment.

Semadi told The Bali Times: “Pak Kadek has asked the government for the right to use the land that he has leased. Legian is a tourist area, so there’s no problem building there.

“He has already held a (Hindu) cleansing ceremony at the location, to solve any difficulties regarding the site being declared sacred.”

Semadi said Wiranatha was not interested in discussing any arrangement to on-sell the lease to the association, which has been trying to raise money to create a further memorial to the victims of the 2002 bombings on the site.

And he said development of the new entertainment venue, which is directly opposite the official Bomb Memorial in the nightclub precinct on Jl. Legian, would go ahead as soon as Wiranatha had planning approval for his plans from the Bali government.

“We will definitely build there, as soon as possible. But we can’t say when yet because we don’t yet have building permission. Hopefully we can start building in December or January,” he told The Bali Times.

“We already have permission from the Legian authorities but not from the government of Bali, because there is a lot of interest from other parties in the land,” he said.

News of Wiranatha’s proposal has angered the peace park association, whose principals include survivors of the 2002 terrorist bombings of Paddy’s Pub – owned by Wiranatha – and the Sari Club.

They say they have an agreement with the Bali government, the Badung regency and other authorities to create a garden and place of remembrance on the Sari Club site, where most of the 202 people killed in the attacks died. Eighty-eight Australians were among the dead.

And they say that patrons of any new entertainment place on the site will be “dancing on their mates’ graves.”

But Balinese officials, including Governor I Made Pastika, who support the memorial concept in principle, are understood to be running out of patience because the site, in the heart of Bali’s Kuta’s nightclub district, has been left vacant for nearly seven years.

The association is struggling to raise money. It blames the refusal of the Australian government to grant it tax-free charity status to raise charitable donations or to provide any direct funding.

It is notoriously difficult in Australia and other countries to raise money for charity if donors cannot offset their contributions against tax.

“It’s very disappointing. I thought the government would have come on board by now,” Phil Britten, a member of the foundation board, said from Perth this week.

Britten was in the Sari Club with fellow members of Perth’s Kingsley Football Club, when a massive car bomb was detonated outside just after a smaller bomb exploded in the Paddy’s Pub premises across the road.

Seven members of the club died, just a few hours after they arrived in Bali for an end-of-season trip. “This is sacred ground. Who would want to drink and dance there? Personally, I would never go there. It would be dancing on my mates’ graves,” Britten said.

But Wiranatha – who is understood to have signed a long-term lease for the land late last year – remains unmoved. He is reported to have refused to meet the peace park organisers to negotiate a price for the land.

Semadi, speaking for him, told an Australian newspaper, the Melbourne Age, he had written to the peace park association on August 11. The letter said: “We inform you that we would like to build a bar and restaurant on the land of the former Sari Club.”

He told The Bali Times this week when asked to comment on protests over commercial development of the site:

“Why is the Australian media so interested in this story? It’s only a place to have an ordinary business.”

The Kuta village chief, I Gede Suparta, has confirmed that an application was lodged this month to build the nightclub complex, although it had not been processed yet due to incomplete paperwork.

Although he too supports the peace park concept, he said he was in a difficult position.

“We would like to see a more concrete detail of what the Bali Peace Park Association has in mind, other than the idea of a park. We have never actually been shown a proposal or plan for the site,” he said.

Wiranatha, whose business interests include Ku De Ta at Seminyak, rebuilt Paddy’s Pub further down Jl. Legian – reportedly without waiting for a permit to do so – and the former Paddy’s site is now another bar-restaurant establishment.

Early in 2005 he started Air Paradise, of which Semadi is a director. Air Paradise, which Wiranatha promoted as “Bali’s own international airline,” flew to Australian and East Asian cities but shut down precipitately after the 2005 bombings.

Wiranatha then spent many months trying to get money from the Bali government to restart the airline. Its operating licence automatically expired this year under international air transport rules that state an airline must actually operate to keep its licence.

Wiratha is also a director of wine importer Indowines and proprietor of the fortnightly advertising tabloid Bali Advertiser.

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