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445. Tourism opportunities in Bulgaria: Russian roulette

Sofia Echo: 2009-06-22

Quoting unnamed officials at the Bulgarian-Russian Investment Forum as saying that Russian investors were "opting for partnerships with Bulgarian companies in order to start new casinos in Bulgaria", Bulgarian daily Standart said the country had a "golden opportunity to become the Las Vegas for Russian gamblers."

As reason for the Russian interest, Standart referred to a Russian decision to restrict casinos in four regions on July 1 2009.

Luring rich Russian gamblers, however, was not going to be easy, as the country would have to compete with the likes of Monte Carlo and London.

Blagoy Ragin, chair of the Bulgarian Hotel- and Restaurant-Keepers Association, was quoted as saying that "rich Russians would come only if there was a megacasino giant, luxurious, and with a lot of extras."

Ragin said that such a megacasino would be "most becoming in the western part of the Sunny Beach resort," Standart said.

According to an unnamed source in the tourism sector quoted by Standart, businessmen were already hoping that gambling-loving Russian tourists would "be the prime saviours of this summer's holiday season at the Bulgarian seaside."

444. Belogradchik Rocks have attracted 155 000 tourists since January 2009

Sofia Echo: 2009-06-20

The Belogradchik Rocks have been visited by more than 155 000 tourists since the turn of 2009, according to Svetla Dimitrova, co-ordinator of the committee which has nominated the site as one of the (new) seven wonders of the natural world.

The Belogradchik Rocks's nomination has been backed by 6.3 million people worldwide so far, which currently ranks it in third place, behind the Devil'sTown (rock formations) in Serbia and the Kolka canyon in Peru.

Belogradchik, however, has gathered enough international support to propel it above the Grand Canyon in the United States, which ranks in fourth place, Investor.bg has reported.

Over the course of the past weekend alone, the tourist destination had more than 4500 visitors. The committee are expecting an increase of interest from students and young people throughout the year.

The second phase of the selection will conclude on July 7, when the first 77 natural sites out of 261 will be selected. Upon reaching that phase, a professional group of experts will be entrusted with choosing the new seven natural wonders of the world. On July 21 the international commission will select the final 21 sites for the final phase of the competition, which will be decided in 2011.

"The municipality of Belogradchik continues with its aggressive advertising approach," said Dimitrova, as quoted by the Bulgarian news agency (BTA).

443. EC release 1.5 bln EUR for Bulgarian roads

News BG: 2009-06-19

The European commission has waived the ban on construction of roads under operation programs Regional development and Transport, informed the chairman of the Supervision council of National agency Road infrastructure Ivan Atanassov after inspection of the construction on Lyulin highway.

Yesterday a letter was received from Regional development directorate general which points that Bulgaria can open procedures under both operational programs.

205 million euro are scheduled for the construction of roads under Functional program Regional development and nearly 1 bln euro under OP Transport, informed the press centre of Road infrastructure.

In the beginning of last year the EC banned the road agency to sign contracts the under the operational programs, after a scandal with the late road chief Vesselin Georgiev who have projects for 60 million euro to companies related to his brothers. Then the money under the pre-accession programs PHARE and ISPA was also suspended.

Now, according to the agency chiefs the funds are being released because of the great progress reported in the work.

The first 5 km from Lyulin highway are ready and will be opened by the end of July. The Turkish company implementer Mapa Chingis claimes that by the end of the year altogether 12 km will be ready and by the end of 2010 the whole highway.

The deadline for the establishment of the highway is 30 April 2010. Over 148 million euro are needed for the construction. 75% of them are coming from the European program ISPA and 25% from the state budget.

442. Bourgas open-air mall draws 17 bidders

Sofia Echo: 2009-06-16

A total of 17 companies, including three local ones from Bourgas, are vying to become the general contractor to build the first open-air mall in Bourgas, The Strand.

On June 10, the building permit for the site was approved and issued, Bourgas chief architect Vesselina Ilieva was quoted as saying by Stroitelstvo Gradut weekly. The deadline for construction firms to put in their bids is June 18.

Meanwhile, Dimitar Kaloyanov from investment company ZBS Ltd, which owns the project, has said that "the price will not be leading as a criterion" as quoted by Stroitelstvo Gradut.

Experience and expertise, as well as financial stability, turnover and bank guarantees, will reportedly be the main criteria which will be used during the selection process, Kaloyanov said. Once the general contractor is chosen, construction is set to start at the end of July 2009, with the total investment estimated to exceed 30 million euro.

The shopping mall will offer 30 000 sq m of retail space, a further 8000 sq m of pedestrian and recreational zones and about 18 000 to 19 000 sq m allocated for car parks. The entire complex will be built on a parcel of more than 60 000 sq m along the motorway to Sofia.

The mall is designed by British firm GMW Architects.

Open-air malls have lower operational costs compared to the traditional malls which makes them more profitable. Retailers prefer open-air malls because real estate taxes, utility costs and common area costs are much lower than in enclosed malls. This is largely because department store anchors at enclosed malls typically do not pay for rent, land or development, and the costs are passed on to the other tenants.

441. Equest continues to dispose assets in Bulgaria

Sofia Echo: 2009-06-15

Equest Partners, headquartered in London, an investment management and advisory company, continues to offload its assets in Bulgaria, according to a report from the London Stock Exchange.

Equest Investment Balkans has sold its shares in the Boyana Park residential development complex in Sofia, where the company had a 30 percent share of the total project. The deal is estimated to be 600 000 euro. The name of the buyer has not been disclosed.

Furthermore, Equest has shed assets in Romania for another 800 000 euros.

The company has also confirmed its intention to sell additional assets in Bulgaria. Negotiations have commenced on property disposals including Rodacar, the 12 300 sq m retail warehouse property in Varna, and the mixed use Serdika project, in the centre of Sofia.

Recently, Equest also released its 21.2 per cent share in the Bulgarian branch of the financial firm Uniqa International, as well as Avto Union.

440. Bulgaria and San Marino sign tourism cooperation agreement

Frog News: 2009-06-12

An inter-governmental agreement for cooperation in the travel sector between the two countries will be signed on May 19 in the ministry of economy building.

Its main objectives entail greater mutual awareness of the history, culture and traditions of their people. The parties will focus on improving cooperation between trade enterprises, organizations and institutions of the two countries involved in tourism. Exchange of experts and know-how will be encouraged. Fabio Berardi, minister of tourism and sports of San Marino and Marino Ercolani Cassadei, ambassador of the Republic of San Marino to Bulgaria, will lead the delegation. The visit will continue until May 20. The initiative is hosted by the Bulgarian Tourism Agency, whose representatives and Mr. Mladen Mutafchiisky, honorary consul of San Marino in Bulgaria, will meet the delegation. Mr. Mutafchiisky will treat his guests to an elegant dinner at his luxury restaurant Castello de San Marino in Boyana, a suburb of Sofia.

439. Tunnel project under Shipka peak accelerates

Sofia Echo: 2009-06-09

The Road Infrastructure National Agency has initiated a new ambitious scheme that maps out the construction of a ring road around the town of Gabrovo, north of the Balkan mountain range in central Bulgaria, in addition to the tunnel which will be excavated under the mountain range, bypassing the Shipka summit pass, and connecting the town with southern Bulgaria, Stroitelstvo Gradut has reported.

The deadline for firms to submit their applications for the project, which is designated as part of Corridor 9, is June 15. Potential construction companies will be selected on the grounds of the Concession Act which does not envision a preliminary selection process of the participants. Depending on preliminary procedures such as investor meetings, design plans and cost calculations, scheduled to be conducted at the beginning of July, the road agency is to commence the actual preparation for concession or for a tender.

Concession bids meanwhile, are to be submitted in the summer of 2010. Since the project is not part of a European Union Operational Programme, the funding of its construction will be allocated in the budget of 2011.

"So far, one technical design for the project has already been prepared by engineer Dimitar Hvarlev," said Dena Palankova, manager of Patproekt, as quoted by Stroitelstvo Gradut.

"However, before the blueprint is taken to any further stage, it should be upheld in accordance with all EU requirements" she said.

The route traverses an arduous mountainous region, which will make the construction work increasingly demanding. Apart from the tunnel snaking underneath the mountain, estimated to be at a total length of 3.22km with a height of of 4.8m, there will be four additional smaller auxiliary tunnels as well as a total of 10 bridges incorporated within the tunnel system.

438. Bulgaria elected its 17 MEPs

News BG: 2009-06-08

Six political formations surpass the 5.8% barrier and sent their representatives in the European parliament.

This show the Exit polls results of Sova Harris agency at 93% processed protocols and 38% election activity.

GERB are first with 24.68%, BSP second with 18.30% followed by MRF with 15.55%, Ataka 11.64%, the Blue coalition with 7.81% and NDSV with 7.61%.

The surprise on these elections was the surpassing of the election barrier by NDSV. The leader of their list Meglena Kuneva won a mandate in the European parliament.

According to the prognosis results GERB will sent 5 deputies to the European parliament, BSP 4, MRF 3, Ataka 2, the Blue coalition 2, and NDSV 1.

The first comment of the chairman of GERB Tsvetan Tsvetanov is that the difference with BSP could be higher during the Bulgarian parliamentary elections.

The big surprise according to Tsvetanov is the parties Leader and NDSV. According to information from GERB, however, the parties who have bought votes at the most were MRF, Leader and RZS.

Take it, that the first half was weaker and the second will be stronger, said Tsvetanov and added that his party put higher aims to itself for the next elections.

I would call it sensation, this is a normal election process in which the people decide who are these 17 people, which to be sent to the European parliament, commented Meglena Kuneva, leader of the NDSV list.

What I am interested in is in what parliament these deputies will go, added she.

46% is the election activity for the EU, informed Kuneva. Malta did best with 82% activity.

I am very happy there is growing of the activity in three of the new member states Lithuania, Estonia and Bulgaria, stressed Meglena Kuneva.

437. New court house in Varna will be completed by 2013

Sofia Echo: 2009-06-06

Varna's new court house, a lingering concept since 1937, and which 'commenced' construction on four occasions in the past 72 years, will finally be constructed.

" I hope that by 2013 the judicial branch and institutions in Varna will have a new building," said the former head of the municipal court in Varna, and current Justice Minister Miglena Tacheva, as quoted by Stroitelstvo Gradut.

"The project will cost 130 million leva, covered by the national Budget," she was quoted as saying.

The project was worked out by Dizarch OOD with chief architects Delyan Zhechev, whereas the company entrusted with overall construction is Valex EOOD.

The enterprise has been hailed by the design team as "functional, economic, practical, aesthetic and imposing. Furthermore, the building has to be enduring," the statement reads.

The new court house will be perched on Dr Piskyuliev Boulevard, Nikola Kunev Street and Nikola Daskalov Street, on a parcel of 6403 sq m, with a gross area of 41 787 sq m.

Three underground levels will assure capacity for 297 parking spaces. The facility will accommodate quarters for the court police, administrative centre, a storage centre and an archive centre. The ground floor will be designated for customer service and the general public, document procession, registrations and other uses.

Six floors will be allocated to accommodate all the court rooms, 33 in total, and 404 offices whereas the top floor will be transformed into a large roof garden, hosting the magistrate's club and a large library. The building will be served by 18 lifts.

436. In the heavens

Sofia Echo: 2009-06-03

A weekend of festivities marked the official launch of Banskos summer season, including the traditional Between Three Mountains outdoor concert and folklore singing and dancing, as well as a sumptuous food festival.

Banskos winter season was particularly action-packed this year as the town hosted six national and three international skiing events, including the Balkan Biathlon Cup and the Womens Alpine Skiing World Cup. But now Bansko, the doyen of ski resorts, is trying to relaunch itself as a possible summer destination, an alternative to the bustle of the Black Sea for those who prefer a more peaceful break.

Nestled at 925m, between the Pirin, Rila and Rhodope Mountains, Bansko is equidistant (150km) from both Sofia and Plovdiv and just 60km from Blagoevgrad. Towering over the town is Pirins majestic peak of Vihren at 2914m, snowcapped even in the hottest months. One of the areas main attractions, the magnificent Pirin National Park, is home to 180 lakes and 87 peaks above 2500m as well as 113 caves, 159 different species of bird and 45 species of mammals.

Bansko has seen something of a building blitz in recent years. Investment in tourism during the period 2001/2006 amounted to more than 200 million leva, creating several thousand jobs in the tourism and construction sectors. More than 100 hotels have been built in the past two years alone, ranging from small family establishments to luxurious four-star complexes, creating a total capacity of 10 000 beds in the town. Bansko now has 462 restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs and 83 grocery shops.

Plans for the new season

At the official launch of the summer season on May 23, mayor Alexander Kravarov hosted a news conference at which he said that Bansko had enjoyed 60 per cent occupancy during the winter, a figure acclaimed by the panel as a success given the sharp economic downturn, and that 30 per cent occupancy - of Banskos 280 hotels - would be judged satisfactory in the summer.

Among the towns most popular summer attractions is the International Jazz Festival. This years festival, running between August 8 and August 13, will gather stars from all over the world, including Dutch saxophonist Candy Dulfer.

Kravarov said that Bansko was also focusing on developing its historical and eco tourism. But he was also carrying out more than four million leva worth of works on mountain paths and sports alleys as well as building two giant sports centres and new football grounds and tennis courts. Repairs were also being effected to the infrastructure in the old quarter of Sveta Troitsa as well as churches and museums.

The mayor said that they had an annual budget of 26 million leva, of which only six million comes from the state.

In response to a couple of critical questions from the press, Kravarov said that he and the municipality would try to persuade hotel owners to create more green areas around hotels. He denied responsibility for perceived overbuilding on the basis that private unregulated agricultural land had been sold to building contractors.

During the weekend, a delegation was shown around some of Banskos main attractions, including the Nikola Vaptsarov Museum - home of the famous anti-fascist poet murdered by Bulgarias fascist government during World War 2 - the Neofit Rilksi house (home to one of the most celebrated teachers and figures of the Bulgarian National Revival) and the Sveta Troitsa church.

Many hotels were also shown to visitors during the weekend, including some exquisite guest houses offering rooms for as little as 20 leva a night in the summer.

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