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Protests in Tbilisi after development above historic sulphur baths restart

12 January 2018
Activists protest Mirza Shapi Street development project (Dato Parulava /OC Media)

Protests in Tbilisi’s old neighbourhood against constructions above the city’s historic sulphur baths are set to resume, as urban policy activists vow to fight plans to construct two large multifunctional complexes.

On 9 January dozens of activists gathered at Abanotubani, a district famous for Tbilisi’s old architecture, where they believe proposed projects do not fit.

Controversy over proposed developments on Mirza Shapi Street have lasted over a decade. The land across the street is currently owned by two companies, ACI Project and Apolo GS. There are plans to build multifunctional complexes across the hill on this land, including hotels, residential buildings, and offices.

One of the most controversial projects, called Royal Gardens, would cover an area of 9,200 square metres. Both investors have acquired building permits from Tbilisi City Hall , and demolition work started long ago.

‘This is the wealth of the city’

Tsira Elisashvili, from urban policy advocacy group Tiflis Hamkari, says that developers have been illegally demolishing buildings, some of which she says were cultural heritage sites. The organisation believes the excavation of cliffs on the site was also unauthorised when it began.

‘This is the wealth of the city, which determines its uniqueness. It is the harmony between landscape and architecture. By allowing this kind project, we are losing this value’, Elisashvili told OC Media.

Former city council member Aleko Elisashvili, who came third in last October’s mayoral race, attended the gathering.

Mirza Shafi Street Development Project.

‘It’s a current trend that landscapes are modified to fit the architecture. They demolish cliffs to free up extra square metres. This is simply unacceptable’, Elisashvili told OC Media.

Activists have vowed to hold street protests against the plans. Nata Peradze of Guerilla Gardening Tbilisi says that civil mobilisation is essential in order to stop the construction.

‘We have to meet city officials and find solutions. Building does not always stand for development. We have to explain to people why constructions of such scale are unacceptable here’, Peradze told  OC Media.

In 2010, The Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), a Tbilisi based rights group, appealed to the Prosecutor’s Office to investigate whether the demolition of cultural heritage sites was legal, but received no response.

In 2015, GYLA successfully appealed to the courts to obtain information from the Prosecutor’s Office about any investigation into this case. The Prosecutor’s Office’s response was that the statute of limitation for such an investigation had already passed. GYLA disagrees, saying that when they appealed in 2010, it had not.

Despite legal efforts by activists to halt demolition works, construction on Mirza Shapi continues.

Constructions around Tbilisi’s historic Abanotubani District are not the only developments activist are fighting. Panorama Tbilisi, the hotel and golf course project backed by billionaire ex–Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, has provoked numerous public demonstrations. Activists have accused the local government of sacrificing public interests for the sake of private investors, while ignoring impacts to the environment and the architectural heritage of Tbilisi.

[Read more on OC Media: Investigation | Who are Panorama Tbilisi’s mystery backers?]

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