Luigi Brugnaro, the president of Umana Holding, an investment firm, offered €513,000 to the cash-strapped Italian government for a 99-year lease to redevelop Poveglia, an uninhabited island, during an auction on Tuesday morning, RAI News reported.
The 52-year old former president of the Venice unit of Confindustria, the Italian employers association, has pledged not to undertake speculative development on the island after a group of Venice locals launched their own bid to prevent it from being closed off to the public and turned into “yet another luxury resort”.
The campaigners from neighbouring Giudecca clubbed together to offer a lower bid of €160,000.
Brugnaro also promised that the island, which was used as a quarantine station for people with infectious diseases in the 18th century, would remain public.
“It will always be open,” he was quoted on the RAI News website as saying.
“Only a fool would close off an island like this. It would be like closing off Venice, a cultural crossroad.”
A report in The Telegraph newspaper in April described Poveglia as “one of the most haunted places in Italy”.
The island was home to a hospital for the elderly between 1922 and 1968, during which time experiments on the mental ill, including crude lobotomies, were rumoured to have taken place, the newspaper said. The hospital's director is also said to have killed himself after "being driven mad" by ghosts.
An American TV presenter who visited the island for the Travel Channel series Ghost Adventures claimed to have been briefly possessed by a ghost there, the newspaper added.