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400. Markovo Tepe Mall will open in spring 2010

Sofia Echo: 2009-03-30

The first sod of the 65 million euro project for the new retail and recreation centre, Markovo Tepe Plovdiv, was turned last week. The project is scheduled for completion by the end of April 2010.

Markovo Tepe Mall is on the junction of Ruski Blvd, Gladstone St and Dragan Tsankov St. Preparation before construction was arduous in light of the ground underneath the site. The 8400 sq m site required nearly two years to complete, including the demolition of metres of solid rock formations underneath that had to be cleared to make way for the mall's foundations. Eventually, the desired 16m of depth was reached, deemed sufficient for the structure.

Two companies, the Israeli Peleg Architects, and the Plovdiv-based RG Projects, came up with the design for the mall, led by chief architects, Manuel Manuelian and Veselin Rusev.

Structurally, the complex consists of a three level low block and a high-rise 10 storey main building situated along Ruski Blvd. Four underground levels are underneath the mall totalling 21 000 sq m in area with an underground parking lot with capacity for 600 vehicles. On the top floor of the mall will be a 2000 sq m supermarket.

Decreased purchasing power and the deteriorating economic climate have apparently not deterred Yakov Niv, the manager of the IsraeliBulgarian company Melina Ltd, the main investor in the project. During the inauguration ceremony, marking the beginning of the site's construction last week, he was quoted as saying by Stroitelstvo Gradut:

"Markovo Tepe Hall has an excellent location, it will therefore guarantee investments, it has excellent management and services and professional expertise in design and construction these are just some of the advantages that make it truly special," Niv said.

399. Clocks move one hour forward last night

Sofia Echo: 2009-03-29

At 3am on March 29 2009, Bulgaria will move its clocks one hour forward, the State Agency for Measuring and Technical Supervision said. Bulgaria, like the rest of Europe, will go from to winter time (standard time) to daylight saving time (DST-summer time).

The return to regular astronomical time will happen on October 25 2009 at 4am.

Modern DST was first proposed in 1907 by the English builder William Willett and many countries have used it since then although some consider DST as highly controversial. For example not all of the US states are using DST, Hawaii being one notable exception.

Supporters of the idea claim that adding daylight to afternoons helps retailing, sports, and other activities that exploit sunlight after working hours. Opponents to the idea, however, say that it causes problems for farming, entertainment and other occupations tied to the sun.

It can also affect peoples health condition since it leads to a disrupt sleep in the first coupe of weeks after the time change.

398. Design of administrative centre for the new Bourgas airport is ready

Sofia Echo: 2009-03-27

Bourgas Airport's new administrative centre is ready on paper and currently pending approval for construction. The concept design was created by Arhline Nikolov, a Bourgas-based architectural firm fronted by leading architect Stanislav Nikolov.

The new facility will be three storeys tall, on the northeastern part of town, on an expansive 24 000 sq m plot. According to plans, the built-up areas will consist of 985 sq m, with a gross floor area of 2149 sq m.

Outside the complex will be a spacious parking lot, and the ground level will accommodate the airport's administrative offices as well as a cafe, restaurant, service halls, a warehouse, and technical and logistical support facilities. The second floor will have additional office space, with a large multifunctional and conference hall, and another spacious warehouse. The third floor will also have office space and warehouses.

The airport itself is set for a major renovation and expansion. In 2009, Bourgas Airport will get the benefit of a 35 million euro package as announced at a news conference at the airport on January 22 2009, as The Sofia Echo reported previously.

Kalin Barzov, Bourgas Airport executive director, and Karl Mai, chief technical director of Fraport Twin Star Airport Management AD outlined the investment scheme for 2009.

"The investment programme of the concern remains unchanged. The global crisis is a fact, it has arrived in Bulgaria but it changes nothing. It (the crunch) is a temporary phenomenon and we are planning ahead for the long term," Mai said.

The expansion of the Bourgas terminal will see several major developments. An extensive road network will be built, as well as electricity distribution facility, an infrastructure tunnel housing a communications centre and a system for noise pollution surveillance.

The terminal will be expanded to accommodate and process a larger number of customers.

Several buildings currently in use at the airport perimeter will be demolished. Most of the airport's administration will be relocated to a new administrative centre which will be set for use by the end of 2009.

The airport is served year-round by Bulgaria Air and budget carrier Wizz Air, which has a direct flight from Bourgas to London. German tourists were top of the charts, with more than 400 000 passengers passing through the airport, followed by Britons, more than 372 000, and a further 38 per cent increase in Russians. There has also been a noted increase in arrivals from the Czech Republic, Poland, Israel and the Netherlands.

397. More reasons to go to Belogradchik: the wine

Sofia Echo: 2009-03-26

Long overlooked as a tourist destination even by its own countrymen, Belogradchik, in the north-western corner of Bulgaria, and nearer the border with Serbia than anything else, is looking to place itself on the radar.

Apart from its current high ranking in the voting process of New 7 Wonders of Nature campaign, where the curious red rock formations at Belogradchik hold the number two spot in the Caves, Rock Formations, Valleys category, the municipality is starting to recognise another potential tourist draw: wine.

In a March 23 2009 article on bgNewsroom.com, the mayor of Belogradchik, Emil Tsankov, said that there were two well-respected wineries on the territory of the municipality, and that both of them had the promise of drawing visitors. Magura Winery, in the village of Rabisha, and Maxxima Cellars, in the village of Borovitsa, had both recently replanted and increased their vineyards sizes to about 100 decares, and like investments were to be continuing, Tsankov said. The two wineries had also revamped their facilities, bringing them up to modern "European" standards, for a better-quality wine.

"These are not mass-market wines," Tsankov said. "Theyre a bit more expensive that what is normally seen on shelves, but their quality is worth the price."

In the Bacchus Bulgarian Wine of the Year 2008 contest, the Maxxima Private Reserve 2003 was ranked in the top 10 overall Bulgarian wines; in 2007, the Magura Winery Rendez-Vous Cuvée du Nord 2004 won a bronze medal in the Decanter World Wine Awards, while in 2006, the same wine, vintage 2003, won a silver medal from Decanter.

In addition to Maxxima and Magura, the owners of a Belogradchik hotel complex, Skalitsa, also recently invested in planting new vineyards, with the aim of starting a boutique winery.

Yet if Belogradchik plans to a mass draw of tourists, it will have to up its bed count at the moment, there are 430 beds, "which is nothing", Tsankov said. Three hotel complexes currently under construction are hoped to help ease the shortage which, granted, itself is not yet a problem.

396. At least 26 Bulgarian towns to join Earth Hour

Sofia Echo: 2009-03-25

At least 26 Bulgarian towns will join the Earth Hour 2009 initiative on March 28, global conservation organisation WWF said on March 24. Initiated by WWF, the campaign encourages electricity saving, urging people to switch off all their appliances and lights for one hour starting 8.30pm (4.30pm GMT), and other actions against global climate changes.

In Sofia, 35 buildings will switch off lights, including all ministries, Parliament, Bulgarian National Bank, Alexander Nevsky cathedral, Ivan Vazov national theatre, the National Palace of Culture and a number of embassies and corporate headquarters.

Four days before the Earth Hour 2009, a total 2398 cities, towns and municipalities in 83 countries had committed to join the initiative, according to information on WWF's Earth Hour 2009 website.

Earth Hour began in 2007 in Sydney, Australia, where 2.2 million households and firms turned their lights off for one hour. Only a year later, the initiative was embraced worldwide with more than 100 million participants from 35 countries.

This year, among the cities confirmed participation are London, Paris, Rome, Moscow, Athens, Istanbul, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Toronto, Mexico City, Manila, Cape Town, Brussels, Copenhagen, Dubai, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.

395. Bulgarian foreign minister on official visit to China

Sofia Echo: 2009-03-23

The Bulgarian deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs Ivaylo Kalfin will be on official visit to the Peoples republic of China from 23 to 25 March 2009.

The visit is at the invitation of the Chinese minister of foreign affairs Yan Jieche. In Beijing Ivaylo Kalfin will also meet the Chinese vice president Xi Jipin, informed the press center of the Bulgarian foreign minsitry.

The Bulgarian delegations program includes visit of Shanghai where minister Kalfin will meet the leadership of the Shanghai municipality, business leaders and representatives of the Chinese-European school for international business. The Bulgarian foreign minister will take part in a round table on the topic EU-China relations in the 21st century. Minister Kalfin will also deliver a lecture in the East Chinese university on the role of Bulgaria in the Black sea region.

The official visit of Ivaylo Kalfin will mark also the 60th anniversary of the establishing of the diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and China. The will of the Bulgarian side for deepening of the bilateral political dialogue, including in the context of the strategic partnership between the EU and China is expected to be expressed again.

Ivaylo Kalfins visit will contribute to the further development of the cooperation between the foreign ministers of the two countries.

394. WWF and Radio Tangra organize an environment-friendly concert without electricity

News BG: 2009-03-21

WWF and radio Tangra Mega Rock announced a contest for bands and musicians, who would be willing to take part in the Sofia segment of the global event 'Earth Hour', which will take place on 28th March 2009, next Saturday, radio Tangra Mega Rock reports.

More than 1600 cities worldwide will switch off their electricity for one hour, thus showing their concern about environmental problems. In Bulgaria, we should take part at 8:30 p.m.

The concert in Sofia on that occasion is organized by the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) with the help of Tahgra Mega Rock. Proceedings will kick off exactly one hour before the big electricity blackout - at 7:30 p.m. local time, on a stage built in front of the 'Ivan Vazov' National Theatre. There will be absolutely no use of any electricity whatsoever. The stage will be lit up by a mass of candles and there won't be any PA.

The contest is open to anyone who can create melodic or totally chaotic sounds without the use of electricity. Any local fire brigade brass band or local granny choir can take part, the organizers announce, as well as rock bands, of course.

The winners will be provided with the opportunity to show off their talents in the course of a 30-minute set, as part of a worldwide event. As stated above, the stage lighting will be entirely made up of candles. The participants will not be paid for this show, but they'll get to perform on a unique stage, at a unique event, the organizers also say.

Demos, recordings etc. are to be at office@radiotangra.com The deadline is March 25th, Wednesday. The winner will be announced on Friday, March 27th, on Tangra mega Rock's 'Jitball' show.

This is the third 'Earth Hour' global event organized by the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF). At exactly 8:30 p.m. local time on Saturday, March 28th, people all around the world will switch off their electricity for the duration of an hour - Earth Hour! Over a billion people in 1600 cities around the globe! The goal is to show that it's now time for serious action to be taken regarding climate changes.

393. Venues in Bansko found violating copyright

Sofia Echo: 2009-03-20

More than 30 venues in the Bulgarian winter resort of Bansko have been found in violation of the Law on Copyrights and Neighbouring Rights (LCNR) and have not paid due fees to collective rights organisation Muzkiautor.

Inspections were performed by the directorate of copyrights and neighbouring rights of the Ministry of Culture, together with police and in co-ordination with Muzikautor, a media statement from the collective rights organisation said.

Muzikautor estimated the total damages at around 120 000 leva a year for venues in Bansko alone.

Under the LCNR, every public performance or broadcast, including those in cafes, restaurants, bars and hotels, is subject to royalties, payable to the collective rights organisation. This organisation then redistributes the money to record companies, performers and song writers.

Fees were calculated based on the number of stars and the number of beds for hotels, or the number of seats for restaurants and bars.

One of the hotels that had not paid its due fees was a luxury complex with 160 rooms and suites, three restaurants and three bars, Muzikautor said. The organisation estimated the copyrights fees for the hotel at more than 10 000 leva a year.

Eight venues that had been sanctioned the year before, appeared not to have paid due fees this year either. Among the eight was a hotel that was part of an international chain, Muzikautor said.

Under the LCNR, not paying due fees for copyrights and neighbouring rights is punishable by 300 to 3000 leva fines.

"Inspections by the Ministry of Culture is one of the few mechanisms we have to deal with these violations. And it seems they do pay off, athough there are still venues that simply refuse to pay," said Tsenko Minkin, chair of the board of Muzikautor.

According to Muzikautor, due to the almost 380 inspections in 2008 and despite some places refusing to pay fees due, revenues from fees paid by commercial and tourist venues in Bulgaria were up by 200 per cent.

392. Brokers say Bulgarias property market hit rock bottom

Sofia Echo: 2009-03-19

The Bulgarian real estate market has hit rock bottom and will not recover any time soon, Yavlena agency manager Strahil Ivanov said.

Speaking to students at the University of National and World Economy on March 18, Ivanov predicted prices of some properties could drop by 5 to 10 per cent. Now was the time to hunt for bargains, he said.

His opinion was echoed by most of Bulgarias major property agencies.

Tsvetelina Taseva, executive director of Address, said at a recent conference that buyers lower prices by 15 to 20 per cent if they have the money at hand.

Ivanov estimated properties in the centre of Sofia that are put up for sale at 2 000 euro a square metre at the moment, could fall to 1 600 euro.

Yavlena said deals in January and February were rare, but said quarterly numbers were expected to be three times lower. The company did receive inquiries from prospective buyers, which it said was a sign that the market was about to pick up. However, this is unlikely to happen before the end of the year, Ivanov said.

Real estate agency Elta Consult said more deals were expected towards the end of the year but prices would be lower.

Last week it emerged that prices in the mass home segment have gone back to levels of two years ago. Two-room flats in Sofia and Varna are available for purchase for 50 000 to 70 000 euro, according to a survey by Raiffeisen Real Estate. Asking prices in Sofia were 20 per cent higher than what buyers actually paid, the study found.

391. Russian youths to get free tourist visas for Bulgaria

Sofia Echo: 2009-03-18

Russians aged under 18 will get free tourist visas to Bulgaria when making group visits, Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister Milen Keremedchiev was quoted as saying by Focus news agency on March 12 2009. Teachers accompanying the groups will also get a free visa provided there is one teacher for every 15 children, he said.

Annually, 30 000 to 40 000 Russian children visited Bulgaria on organised school trips.

"Granting free visas to Russian youths is a gesture that Bulgaria wants to make to Russian tourist in times of economic crisis," Keremedchiev said. According to him, the money that Bulgaria would lose in 2008 from grating the free-of-charge visas would be about one million euro, Focus said.

"I think that, overall, we will win back more than this one million euro, because organised school trips include visits to museums, galleries and other events that will additionally stimulate the Bulgaria business sphere," he said.

Bulgaria seems to have reached a solution to the Russian visa issue, since both Bulgaria and Russian tourist organisations have been calling for almost a year for a completely visa-free regime, not only for Russian, but for Ukrainian tourist, too. This measure is view by branch organisations as a way to boost Bulgaria's popularity as an attractive, cheap and easy-to-reach tourist destination, in competition with Greece and Turkey.

In a March 4 2009 letter to Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev, the Russian union of tour operators demandeda reduction in accommodation prices and the abolition of the visa regime, "otherwise Bulgaria is likely to lose its Russian tourists because other countries offer far cheaper and more attractive packages than Bulgaria".

According to statistics of the Bulgarian Association of Tourist Agencies, the implementation of free-of-charge visas would cost Bulgaria about 16 million leva, but revenue from the subsequent influx of Russian tourists would be 10 times that amount. In January, 30 per cent less visas were issued to Russians. In February, the number was 50 per cent.

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