UNESCO vs Ivanishvili
“Tbilisi- the world’s most harmonious historic capital is currently at risk – reads an urgent letter, sent to Georgia by 13 influential international heritage organizations. The letter is addressed to the country’s top officials – the President, the Prime Minister, Tbilisi Mayor and the Ministers.
Ex-Premier Bidzina Ivanishvili’s initiated “Panorama Tbilisi project, the construction of which has been already launched, has caused UNESCO advisory organizations’ great concern.
“Panorama Tbilisi will comprise four huge multi-functional complexes, built in four different districts of Old Tbilisi (Sololaki Hills; Sololaki Gardens; Freedom Square and Erekle II Square). Ropeways and oblique elevators will connect the complexes. Under the design, the multi-functional centres, business-areas, seven-star hotels, gyms and other tourist and recreational infrastructure, will be accommodated there.
That’s how “Panorama Tbilisi’s computer model looks:
Experts believe, placing such a gargantuan building in the historic part of Tbilisi, with its narrow streets and mainly three-four storey buildings, will damage the city scape.
Since 2007, Old Tbilisi has been a candidate for UNESCO’s World Heritage Tentative list, which implies a commitment to protect this area.
The international organizations, that sent a letter to the Georgian government, have also appealed to the UNESCO with the demand to stop the construction of “Panorama Tbilisi.
The preliminary budget of one of the most costly projects in the history of Tbilisi exceeds half a billion dollars. The project is implemented by the Georgian Co-Investment Fund, set up by Ivanishvili in 2013.
The Co-investment Fund has an ambition to turn “Panorama Tbilisi into an important centre of the South Caucasus region and Tbilisi landmark. “This project will turn Tbilisi into the South Caucasus centre, says Giorgi Bachiashvili, GCF’s CEO.
The initiator of the project, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, himself, calls it a unique and exclusive project. In his words, ‘if it has not been for his personal whim, the investors would not put money in this project, because it is unprofitable.’
The billionaire is also expected to invest his own money in the project.
“The project is very risky from the financial point of view, but I have assumed the first risk and if the project succeeds and becomes cost-effective, anyone will be able to buy all that at its cost.
“The reason I am doing this is just to ensure that an exclusive project be created, more tourists come to the region and Tbilisi be turned into the region’s landmark, claims Ivanishvili.
He is sure that anti-panorama protest wave is driven by the ‘National Movement’.
Georgian environmentalists, representatives of NGOs and ordinary citizens have been fighting against the project for already several months. Permanent rallies have been organized, including outside Ivanishvili’s house.
About 5 thousand people have signed an anti-project petition, disseminated through the social networks. “If Ivanishvili really intends to develop the city, then he should move Panorama from the city’s historic part to the outskirts the petition signees note.
Urban specialists believe, the project will hamper city development; Tbilisi will lose its historic face and will become less attractive for tourists.
Environmentalists view the problem in the fact that for implementation of the project, the forest cover of Sololaki hills must be cut down, traffic jams in the city centre will increase and that will affect the environment.
The project authors, in turn, claim that underground parking lots, designed for 1800 vehicles, will be constructed as part of “Panorama Tbilisi . Also, 6 thousand people will employed on construction sites, whereas afterwards, 2 thousand people will get permanent jobs.
Georgian government has not shared UNESCO advisors’ demand. In Georgian Economy Minister’s words, there were no remarks in the letter, specifying why this project shall be stopped.
Despite the society’s differences in opinion, the construction works have been already launched. It is planned to finish the construction in a year and a half.
NGOs and activists are expected to resume protest rallies. They claim, Panorama Tbilisi may turn to be the main reason for not including Old Tbilisi in the UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
“It will be the only government that has managed to make UNESCO reject Old Tbilisi. If included in UNESCO’s list, Tbilisi would have benefited more from the financial point of view, says Tsira Elisashvili, culture expert.
•10 activists were arrested during the protest rally against Panorama Tbilisi, in August. The reason for their arrest were the streamers with indecent words, addressed to Tbilisi Panorama and the ex-Premier, himself
•For launching the construction of “Panorama Tbilisi, Tbilisi Sakrebulo (City Council) has abolished Sololaki district’s recreation zone status.
•A land plot, where one of Panorama Tbilisi complexes is being constructed, was Bidzina Ivanishvili’s ownership and the Co-investment Fund has purchased it from the ex-Premier.