Each new beginning involves changes, ambitions and new dreams – this also applies to us as we stand on the threshold of the Fund’s second investment period. Our ambitions and dreams are big, and we know they are not always realistic. We want the city to be more than just a populated area – it should also be a space for cohabitation, a place that lowers aggression and brings harmony to modern society. The city is a living, constantly evolving organism, and our real aim is to include all kinds of comforts for its residents in that evolution: from places to meet and relax, through sports facilities, to modern initiatives benefitting business, culture, healthcare and education. At the same time, we are prepared to fund practical measures to protect nature, develop public spaces and infrastructure, and improve energy efficiency and transport networks. However, whenever we analyse urban projects, we expect them to take into account people’s wellbeing. We measure it according to rational criteria and methodologies used for international comparative analyses of cities. For example, we answer the question of why, in consecutive years, the annual Mercer survey has ranked Austria’s capital Vienna as the city with the highest quality of life in the world.
Photography of residential complex “House for Trees”, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; architects: Vo Trong Nghia, Masaaki Iwamoto, Kosuke Nishijima
The reality back home is different from that in Austria, but an increasing number of influential people are realising there is a need to change and that the change is unavoidable in the long term. In the Fund’s first investment period, we believe that we made a step in the right direction by meeting with supporters of our cause, namely the mayors and their co-workers at the municipal administrations of three of the six big cities outside the capital with which we work – Stara Zagora, Varna and Burgas. We can boast about several projects of public importance to which we have given a new lease of life: the swimming pool and the market in Stara Zagora, the Yunashki Salon sports hall in Varna and the new sports centre in Burgas.
The experience we gained in the first five years of the Fund has taught us a lot and given us confidence that we can be a catalyst for good projects. The new beginning refers to our realisation of the many ways in which we can help. We can be a partner to brave and innovative projects, in which we can invest not only money, but knowledge and experience too.
Photography zoological park in Paris; photo of TN PLus Landscape Architects & Beckmann N’Thepe
The new investment period will last 10 years and we expect to be able to provide funding to projects to the tune of BGN 4-5 million a year. This kind of money, we hope, should be enough to sponsor ideas that, even if not particularly large scale, will be numerous and – dare we say – brave. We are still actively cooperating with the municipalities of Varna, Burgas, Pleven, Plovdiv, Ruse and Stara Zagora because we have confidence in their efforts to facilitate the development of our urban environments in line with the best trends in the world. We also dream of interesting private projects, which we can implement together with businesses that share our values, including our attitude to good and beautiful things.
At the same time, we believe in the projects created with our help so far and, of course, we continue to work with their initiators towards their successful implementation and development. If need be, we can allocate additional funding to them.
Our Fund and the Sofia Sustainable Urban Development Fund have become established as an alternative to financing through grants. We are also prepared to support the joint financing of projects subsidised under different programmes provided that there is a good match between our mechanisms (and reasons) and those of financing through grants. It is not hard to understand that, when even a small part of the money spent must be paid back, a project will be implemented to a higher standard and its funding will be used more efficiently, because its supervision is (more careful) and better.
Our ambitions are great, and the initiatives we look for must have the potential to act as a catalyst for positive changes and must aim to improve the lives of the residents of Varna, Burgas, Pleven, Plovdiv, Ruse and Stara Zagora.
The business projects approved by the Regional Urban Development Fund receive loans with much longer repayment terms and lower interest rates than those offered on the market. The fund can offer such favourable terms because part of the funding is provided by the Operational Programme for Regional Development of the European Union.