At the Bristol Business Conference last Friday, Andrea Basilaia, Head of Economic Development for the Tbilisi City Council, spoke to British investors on the ongoing projects in Tbilisi City, the Council’s priorities and the direction the capital is heading in.
“7.9 million international visitors came to Georgia last year, up 17.6% year-on-year, of which 58% visited the capital, Tbilisi. That resulted in $2.7 billion in tourism revenue, up 27% year-on-year,” he said.
Tbilisi City Hall sees a stable, positive outlook moving forward and in particular looks forward to more trade and links with the UK.
“Tbilisi, with a population of 1.1 million, boasts a third of the entire population of Georgia and generates half of the country’s GDP,” Basilaia said. “We forecast 11-12 million visitors to Georgia by 2025, and the municipality is working hard to do its part to achieve this goal.”
1) Optimization and Development of the Municipal Transport System, including implementation of the ‘Tbilisi Transport Strategy,’ replacement of the municipal bus fleet and the development of priority lanes for public transport.
“We plan to optimize and upgrade, replacing all buses by the end of next year, optimizing bus and minibus routes, and creating priority bus lanes, making it more desirable to use public transport,” Basilaia elaborated.
2) Regeneration of the City’s Green Areas & Improvement of Air Quality, including renovation of existing recreational areas, adoption of an air quality monitoring system and implementation of green space protection guidelines.
“We will be working to generate green areas. We have big plans and are committing a lot of the budget to fund improvements to the city’s air quality,” he said.
3) Urban Development & Destination Promotion, including development of new tourist attractions, promotion of Tbilisi as a tourism destination and development of tourism infrastructure.
“Tourism is one of the main pillars at around 7% of Georgia’s GDP,” Basilaia noted. “The potential still big, so we’ll be developing new tourist attractions, as well as promoting and developing tourist infrastructure.”
4) Fostering Investment Attractions & Support for New Business Endeavors, including Tbilisi investment promotion, investment projects development and a business accelerator (incubator) for SME development.
“We’ll be working closely with the business community. One of our priorities is SME development, which is going nicely so far. Take, for example, the new permanent street market, concentrated on supporting handcraft and creative industry businesses.”
The business accelerator is supported by the EU and envisages the creation of a physical space for startupers and provision of free assistance from specialized professionals in marketing and accounting. “Entrepreneurs can come as an existing business and be helped to move to the next stage by writing a business plan and receive help advocating for financing,” he said.
The City Projects
Basilaia spoke first of a project that is over half-way through completion, New Tiflis, which saw huge investment in the last seven years and the majority of the tourist route in the Old Town restored to preserve its former glory.
“It has received very positive feedback,” he said. “Real estate prices tripled or quadrupled in the area and tourist interest is up.”
The TV tower is set for a redesign to attract more tourist revenue. Working with the Ministry of Economy and renowned Estonian architect firm Koko, Tbilisi City Hall is finalizing the visuals for the creation of a new attraction point for visitors to the city: a café, exhibition center and viewing platform 70 m above ground. It is to cost $12 mln to develop and is expected to attract 350 mln visitors per year.
“To give visitors more reason to stay longer in the city, we are developing the Tbilisi Theme Park,” Basilaia told conference attendees. “This is a regional-scale project to develop 182 Ha of the current Dendrological Park zone next to Tbilisi Sea. The project will accommodate the Tbilisi Zoo, a theme park, hotels, F&B, retail facilities and a convention center for MICE events (something the city currently lacks). It’s too early to announce investment amounts, but we can say we’re working with world-renowned concept designers,” he said.
A ‘Radio City’ is to be created on the 12 Ha site of a former Soviet radio factory to the north of the city (Gobronidze Street). The area will be transformed into a modern regenerated urban space boasting a cinema, sports facilities, exhibition spaces and more. A feasibility study is being carried out by Colliers International.
Ageing housing in the capital is also on City Hall’s must-do list, where there still remain buildings constructed in Soviet times, which today are, as Basilaia put it “in bad shape.”
City Hall has identified 15 land plots of various size worth a potential $2 mln – $46 mln to investors. These will be given to investors for a symbolic price of 1 GEL.
“After development, approximately 10-15% of the residential area will be transferred to City Hall, enabling it to satisfy the needs of those living in dilapidated buildings in dangerous conditions, and for those unable to afford housing. Work is ongoing with investors to bring this vision to fruition,” Basilaia said, concluding his talk by telling the investors in the room: “We are always open to new ideas and new investments.”