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Serbia pushes through controversial UAE backed Belgrade waterfront project.

April 2015 saw government planning regulators in Serbia fast-track approval of a major riverside

development project in the capital Belgrade, financed by an investor from Abu Dhabi in the United

Arab Emirates (UAE). However, a decision that has proved deeply divisive, in terms of public and

political opinion in the Balkan city.

While developers Eagle Hills broke ground on Belgrade Waterfront this year, encouraged by modernist

architectural groups keen to see the transformation of what is in their eyes, a grim sprawling

wasteland on the east bank of the Sava River, into a lustrous high-tech landscape of metal and

glass, opposition to the scheme is mounting and well organised.

Publication of the ubiquitous glossy marketing PDF highlighting the allure of the project said to

cost 3 billion Euros (US$ 3.34 billion) to build over the next 10 years, has been in circulation

for some time. The marketing thrust is also behind the renovation of one of Belgrade's old

masterpiece buildings, a solid 1907 art nouveau block known as Geozavod originally the home of the

Institute of Geophysics. Barely visible, eighteen months earlier, so encrusted was the structure

in sooty pollution, it re-entered service in the summer of 2014 following a flawless

restoration. Admittedly now renamed the BW Gallery, festooned with blue Belgrade Waterfront

banners, and housing a marketing suite of monumental proportions.

Belgrade Waterfront is the crowning project of an improbable alliance between the UAE and Serbia

under Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic's conservative government, embracing defence, agriculture

and cheap financing.

Some, including the Serbian government see a bright prosperous future as a result, the creation

of 20,000 new jobs (unemployment is running at 25 per cent) and a new lease of life for Serbia's

careworn economy. Others are dismayed at the prospect of an alien high-rise skyline that will

change the architectural essence of centuries-old Belgrade. Perhaps an unreasonable stance as

the same mixed modernist/historic cityscape appears to have worked perfectly well in Paris and

London, along with other European capitals.

But perhaps the more inflammatory factor for critics is that, what in their opinion was a risky

undertaking was railroaded through the approval process with minimal public consultation. But

worse still, the approval was obtained through the adoption of a special public interest law

passed by Serbia's 250-seat parliament that even circumvented the existing rules. The new law

allows for the specific takeover of land and issuance of building permits for the BW project.

There is now a dedicated and growing anti-development movement AaeNe da (vi) mo Beograd' founded

by members of the public and opposition politicians, who simply do not accept that the waterfront

project is of any real economic or social benefit to Belgrade dwellers. The play on words means

roughly Aaewe won't let Belgrade d(r) own'. It could be said that the group offer an overly harsh

assessment, as the number related jobs created in the construction sector will be

considerable.

Yet on a more sinister note, they are highly suspicious about the overall nature of Serbia's

relationship with Eagle Hills, believing that senior government members may be Aaerewarded' for

their support. The opposition mascot is a giant yellow duck, which also has a derisory double

entendre in Serbian, relating to the male anatomy.

The project is the first excursion into Central & Eastern Europe by Abu Dhabi headquartered

Eagle Hills and UAE real estate tycoon Mohamed Alabbar, also chairman of Dubai's Emaar

Properties. From the Arabian Gulf state's perspective, the project gives them a foothold in a

country expected to ultimately join the EU at a time when costs are relatively low. It also

enables them to sidestep the strict public sector procurement rules, transparency requirements

and regulations prevalent in existing EU member states, but currently not applied in Serbia.

Plans for Belgrade Waterfront cover an area of 180 hectares (444.8 acres) that will see the rise

of 5,700 apartments, 2,200 hotel rooms including a high-end AaeW Hotel', offices to accommodate

12,700 occupants; a bubble domed 140,000 square metres (1.5 million square feet) shopping mall

as well as a 200-metre (656.2 feet) tower, both emulating typical Dubai design and style.

A giant model in the BW Gallery portrays a dense core of high-rise buildings, dominated by a

glass tower sporting a twisted midriff, named the Kula Beograd. The tallest structure in the

immediate region, it will look down onto the River Sava and the new 1.8 kilometre (1.1 miles)

Sava Promenade. Parkland and tree-lined boulevards are generously spread around the planned

development and apparently Belgrade's magnificent railway station dating from 1884 is to be

converted into a museum, it will be replaced by a new operational city centre station in

2016.

Belgrade has reinvented itself as a cool cauldron of creativity, almost a replacement for

Berlin just after the Wall came down. The pinnacle of this cool is Savamala, a district which

slopes down to the river Sava and encroaches well into Belgrade Waterfront's site located on

a riverside strip known as the Sava amphitheatre.

However, according to opponents the project literally oozes risk. Opposition Democratic Party

MP Balsa Bozovic, condemned the newly approved law, saying, "This law robs the citizens of

Serbia of their dignity".

He went on to add, "As they watch the Sava amphitheatre being handed over to an investor; the

prime minister and mayor care more about the investor's interests than those of their own

people."

Bozovic has also gone on record, describing Belgrade Waterfront as the "scam of the

century". He also believes that Eagle Hills' total investment will actually be more like 300

million Euros (US$ 334 million) as opposed to 3.5 billion Euros (US$ 3.34 billion), and

claims that the contract clearly shows that in the final analysis Serbian taxpayers will

pick up most of the tab.

There is also a clear indication that families living in the area have been evicted at a few

days notice, their houses demolished and only offered temporary accommodation but with a

right to buy. Eagle Hills have responded that all actions to date have been conducted in

complete accordance with the law and they are already well on with the work.

BW Residences has broken ground and it has been reported that 75 per cent of the units have

already been sold, to locals, Serbians of cosmopolitan origins and foreign buyers. It is a

given that the international customers are buying for the investment rental market. Another

bone of contention for AaeNe da (vi) mo Beograd' as rental costs for ordinary Serbs could

reach formidable levels, and so the battle continues with the argument that respectable

volumes of affordable and social housing should, but do not, appear to be part of the

plan.

Copyright [c] Andy McTiernan. All rights reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. ( Syndigate.info ).
COPYRIGHT 2015 SyndiGate Media Inc.
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Publication:Andy McTiernan Property & Economy Bulletin
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Aug 5, 2015
Words:1140
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