We can all agree that our cities aren’t the most pleasant places to live in the world. They’d even find it difficult to get into the top 10 of the Balkan championship in Cosiness, Cleanliness and Comfort. If we tried to establish the reason for that, we’d find plenty of theories: the rapid artificial growth of cities in the 60s and 70s, their poor (or insufficient) infrastructure or perhaps their bad management in the last 25 years. What they all have in common is that they take any inconvenient issues out of the range of our personal responsibility and attribute them to external factors, confluence of circumstances or events that are completely beyond our control.
If we, however, were to leave the theory aside, we’d remember that the place where we live is whatever we make of it. It’s dirty when we don’t clean it, ugly when we stop caring for its appearance and grey when we are downcast and sullen. There are plenty of examples from Europe and the rest of the world of abandoned or decrepit buildings and public spaces that go through a metamorphosis and, restored, return to being a part of the city’s life as galleries, museums, workshops or offices. There are also many positive examples of people who, on their own or as a group, redevelop a place that is valuable to the community and then, for instance, a sports playground appears where a landfill used to be or fruit and vegetable allotments replace an abandoned concrete plant.
The Regional Fund for Urban Development and the JESSICA (Joint European Support for Sustainable Investment in City Areas) initiative focus on precisely such positive activities and driven people. The Fund’s most general aim is to finance public and private projects in the six largest cities outside the capital. For three years now, it has been providing substantial support to socially responsible businesses and initiatives that build new places for public use, leisure, education, healthcare and culture, restore rundown industrial areas and architectural heritage sites, improve urban infrastructure, reduce the city’s ecological footprint and take care of the environment. But not all of those things at the same time, of course.
It has turned out that there are really many who are willing to do their part and float ideas of how to improve the urban environment. Most of them, however, still aren’t completely convinced that this isn’t necessarily a financially impossible task. Also, that it doesn’t have to happen at a cost to their business. On the contrary. The Regional Fund for Urban Development extends loans to business projects with much longer repayment terms and much lower interest rates than those offered on the market. Such favourable terms are possible because the funding is provided by several parties – the EU (specifically, the European Commission, the European Investment Bank and the Council of Europe Development Bank), the state budget of Bulgaria and Societe Generale Expressbank.
Next we have a brief overview of the list of ideas that have been more or less implemented thanks to the Regional Fund for Urban Development. For comprehensive information, including all rejected ideas and those that are still in the proposal stage, see this.
A quick drive through Burgas will reveal the works on the Underground City tourist attraction which is housed in a former bomb shelter and on the Flora Expo Centre which is currently under construction and will be completed in 2015. If we took closer look at the completed and ongoing projects in the biggest city on Bulgaria’s Southern Black Sea coast, we’d notice that furniture company Rosi OOD is negotiating for a EUR 1.25 million loan to fund a warehouse, shop and two woodworking machines. We then head to the north.
If enter the city by train and make our way down Primorski Boulevard, we’ll see the new spacious car park renovated using money from the Fund. It is in the immediate vicinity of another site subject to funding negotiations – a former Ottoman warehouse, which is a very beautiful (and no less dangerous) building. The warehouse is over 200 years old and currently deserted, except for various representatives of the local flora. If approved, the project will turn it into a modern cultural centre, but it will preserve the original architecture. On our way out, we’ll go past the Yunashki Salon sports hall, which is being restored, as well as past the abandoned concrete platform of the warehouses of Kooperatsia Panda, whose completion is being funded by a BGN 900,000 loan.
Here, in the city’s industrial zone, we find a private project with exceptional value to the community. A space that can currently make a perfect set for a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller will be cleared and a fabric and textile factory of KHM Textil will be built in its place using financing from the Fund. The other things we’ll notice in the biggest city of North-Western Bulgaria are the Arena multiplex cinemas.
The list of Plovdiv’s project is quite long and includes many nice ideas, some of which are very large-scale – an indoor ice-skating rink, restoration of a house from the Bulgarian National Revival period, reconstruction of a tobacco warehouse, construction of a second rowing canal called Maritsa Eco Park, etc. However, Simid Group, a large bread producer, will receive the most impressive amount of funding. Under the BGN 35 million project, old warehouses will be demolished and a new production facility will be built, creating 220 jobs. And before we head to the Danube, we’ll go past the famous Sveta Karidad Hospital which will use money from the Fund to buy new medical equipment and build a new ward.
In addition to having a rich history, Ruse is famous for its large number of extremely beautiful old buildings, most of which are in a state of near collapse. This is why we immediately notice the project on preserving and restoring three classical buildings, which will become modern locations for accommodation, offices and restaurants. The biggest project in the city is being implemented by Witte Automotive Bulgaria, a manufacturer of car locks, keys and all kinds of related accessories. The company is building a factory in the industrial part of the city that will create 200 jobs and facilitate the development of urban infrastructure. The funding amounts to EUR 15.5 million. We now head directly to the south.
For those in the know, it’s no secret that the economy of this part of Bulgaria is flourishing and is currently in first place by gross domestic product out of the provinces outside the capital. So we’re not at all surprised to find a large number of completed and ongoing projects here. We’re nicely impressed by the new energy-efficient lighting of the Vereya Stadium, the repaired and renovated market right in the city centre, and the intensive work on building a Speedy Logistics Centre at the former location of a poultry processing factory in Madzherito Village. At the end, we take a walk along the brand new lanes in one of the facilities of Holding Zagora, where the lives of forklift drivers have massively improved after the renovation.