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340. Plovdiv builder to invest 50M euro in grand-scale project

Wise Property: 2009-01-06

Yazov, a Plovidv-based construction company, announced that, on January 5 2009, it would turn the first sod on a 50 million euro project called Sky Buildings, Dnevnik daily reported on January 3.

The plan envisions 21 buildings on a land plot of 3.2ha with a total built-up area of 129 000 sq m, near Assenovgradsko Chaussee and Lokomotiv Stadium.

Two of the buildings meant for office spaces are to boast 27 storeys, making them the tallest facilities in Plovdiv.

In addition, the grand project features 14 residential buildings with a total built-up area of 49 000 sq m and a commercial zone with retail spaces, restaurants, cinema theatres, and spa and wellness centres.

Dnevnik reported that, during preparation of the plot for the upcoming construction, an unexplored Thracian mound was discovered. Yazov said that they would make sure the mound got thoroughly studied, preserved and displayed within the complexÕs premises, but no assumptions as to how valuable the finds might turn out to be have been made.

Sky Buildings is expected to be completed by 2013.

339. Snowy Bulgaria

Focus: 2009-01-05

Snowy, beautiful, cold and jammed here are the comments of FOCUS News Agency reporters on the situation in Bulgaria over the last days.

The snow is it a problem, or rather a gift, a disaster or a prophecy for a good 2009. Is it good to travel in winter or is it better to stay home and avoid causing trouble to our relatives and the rest of the people as our ancestor used to do, bearing in mind the fact they did not have the powerful vehicles we enjoy now and, of course, the self-confidence of nowadays drivers.

Is it possible for us to stick to the old traditions and do without the winter holiday at the mountain, the airplanes, and all the rest of the extras?

Snow, cold and winter are they a gift form the God for the winter resorts, are they the reason to make us happy about all the new constructions at the resorts Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo; or it rather seems as if the crazy attempt to compare Bulgarias Pirin Mountain to the Austrias Alps gives grounds to show muscles over our artificial snow and the extra expenses provided in the padded bills we pay for tourist services.

Christmas and New Years holiday, a trip to Greece or only to the villa near Sofia on the bad mountain roads in the extremely low temperatures whos right and whos wrong. Is it for the state, which spends a mint of money to rescue 10 drunken enthusiasts blocked in a mountain hostel; is it for the municipality, which plays gymnastics with the company in charge of the snow-cleaning; or is it for the time we live in who is to be blamed?

338. Cold grips the Balkans

Sofia Echo: 2009-01-03

Bitter cold, snow, rain and strong wind are in the forecast for the following days for Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey and Macedonia, website netinfo.bg wrote on January 2 2009.

The weekend forecast for Bulgaria foresees snowfalls throughout the entire country, with light north-western winds. Temperatures will drop to between 5 and 10 degrees Celsius, while in southern Bulgaria and the Black Sea region they will reach between 5 and 1. The snow cover is expected to reach 15cm.

In the mountains, the weather will remain cloudy and windy, with scattered snowfall and fog up high. All tourists are advised to strictly follow marked paths and to move from one point to another in daylight.

Danger from falling rocks and landslides have been detected around Iskarsko and Kresnersko Defile, Sofia-Samokov, Mezdra-Botevgrad, Assenovgrad-Smolyan, Yugovo-Luki, Krichim-Devin and around Koznitsa.

The traffic police warned that all lorries must travel with snow chains and without carriages in the section Batak-Dospat, and through Shipka Pass and Petrohan.

The website quoted Greek media reports that in the northern part of the country were to be expected heavy snowfall with temperatures as low as 13 degrees Celsius. Extreme caution on the road and snow chains are highly recommended if travel is hard to avoid.

Temperatures in eastern Turkey were to reach 36 degrees Celsius and heavy snowfall was in store for Sunday January 4. The same is expected for Macedonia, where, at the beginning of next week, temperatures will continue to drop and the snow cover would reach up to 25cm. Roads, however, would remain passable, with only lorries being denied access between Mavrovo and Debar, where roads are snow-packed and slippery, the website reported.

337. YEAR IN REVIEW: Health check

Sofia Echo: 2009-01-02

For many people, 2008 was the year that the property balloon burst, but that is not strictly true. Despite the US sub-prime mortgage crisis spreading to other developed nations, property prices in Bulgaria displayed a steady increase in the first half of the year, albeit not at the same rate that made Bulgaria the country with the fastest price growth rate in the world in 2007. Only in recent months have prices begun to show signs of decline.

The problem, like with other sectors of the economy, is that there is virtually no centralised statistical data that would gauge real estate prices and construction activity, only irregular and far from comprehensive status updates from real estate firms.

But there is widespread agreement that the one segment that went downhill, and fast, is that of holiday properties. Geared heavily towards investors from developed countries, a large share of whom were British and Irish buyers, it showed the first signs of slowdown already in 2007 and did even worse in 2008. Hopes in the first half of the year that Russian customers will compensate for the declining number of Brits proved to be a false dawn as the US problems became global ones.

The other big fad of recent years commercial areas is yet to show the same level of decline, but there is a tangible threat of saturation of the market, especially if household consumption goes down in case of an economic downturn. That is yet to happen, but with gloomy economic forecasts multiplying, it could be just around the corner. Already a number of announced projects have been put on hold, while three deals for the sale of malls, one completed and two under construction, in Sofia have collapsed in November.

Residential real estate also appears to have peaked out, with the number of deals being done falling down in the second half of 2008. After years of steady growth, which came despite the fact that 90 per cent of Bulgarians are homeowners, potential customers are no longer willing to pay the prices asked by sellers. According to the data cited by Kapital weekly, prices in Sofia have more than doubled since 2004, while cumulative inflation over the same period of time was only 40 per cent. It does not help that foreign investment funds, which were busy buying real estate even into 2008, have stopped doing so and are now even actively looking to exit their investments, pushing down prices from the supply side.

Office space is not doing any better the chronic lack of space from recent years seems to have toned down as new construction has flooded the market, while prospects of an economic slowdown are pushing down demand.

The key factor that put a dampener on the sector was banks slamming the brakes on lending in autumn, when the global financial crisis took a turn for the worse. The credit crunch did not appear to have a major impact on the willingness of banks to lend money before that, but after September, Bulgarian banks all but froze loans for new projects and began asking potential customers to put down a larger amount of their own money when giving mortgages, while at the same time raising interest rates on old loans. Inevitably, developers and buyers are not the only ones to suffer the consequences of over-extending their reach, with construction companies also feeling the pinch.

Even though at this stage it is much too early to talk of a deflated balloon, doomsayers might not be totally wrong, merely getting their predictions in early.

Budgeting for recession

Tourism is another sector where statistics are sketchy at best and too often dismissed as unreliable. What data is available from the State Tourism Agency (STA) seems to disprove the pessimistic scenarios at the start of the summer season: as of end-August, for the first time in years, revenue from foreign tourists in Bulgaria was greater than the amount spent by Bulgarians abroad. The difference was by no means small either, with foreigners spending 1.45 billion euro in Bulgaria, while Bulgarians took 900 million euro out of the country when they went on holiday.

The trend may appear confusing as one surfed for available offers online, where the opinions posted in favour of holidaying abroad vastly outnumbered those who planned to stay within Bulgarias borders. Although the number of people vacationing abroad is rising rapidly, according to STA data, and comes mainly from the age groups that are more likely to use the internet for research and booking, most Bulgarians still think local when taking their summer holidays.

Constantly rising prices, however, coupled with no change in the standard of service and the massing grey clouds on the horizon of Bulgarias economy, mean that Bulgarians spend less time vacationing, to the extent that the high summer season is now just one month, half of what it used to be. Its a vicious circle, that has prompted hotels and restaurants to further raise prices in a bid to stay profitable. This, in turn, is cutting into the willingness of domestic customers to vacation longer.

Tourists from foreign markets, some already feeling the hurt of their economies slowing down, are doing no better. The number of Brits and Scandinavians visiting the Bulgarian seaside was down this year, according to an informal poll by Kapital weekly in August, while the German market recorded a small recovery after years of decline. Even the Central and Eastern European markets brought fewer tourists, the only exception being Russia.

Winter resorts are even more dependent on foreign tourists, who accounted for 90 per cent of overnight stays in Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo the previous season. So far, the forecasts for this winter are for a drop of between 20 per cent and 40 per cent in the number of tourists, even though Bulgarian resorts continue to be advertised as budget destinations outside the country.

Now that the economic recession is a fact in much of Europe, many potential tourists are cutting down on unnecessary expenses and tourism is suffering the consequences. It does not help that too many Bulgarian hotels are yet to react and lower prices. By the time they do, it could be too late to save the season.

336. Weather in the mountains suitable for skiing

Focus News: 2008-12-31

The weather conditions in the mountains is suitable for skiing, the official on duty in the Mountain Rescue Service told Focus News Agency.

The ski runs in Vitosha mountain, Borovets, Bansko and Pamporovo resorts enjoy conditions appropriate for skiing.

It is cold in the mountains. The temperature is below zero. Light wind is blowing on high grounds.

No incidents have been reported, the service added.

335. Ahead of New Year

Focus: 2008-12-30

In the Eve of the New Year celebrations it turns out that 77% of Bulgarians intend to stay at home for the New Year celebration, show results from a poll made by the National Opinion Research Centre (NCIOM).

Most of the adherents of domesticity are women over the age of 50, people that live in villages and people with poor living standard.

A total of 7% of Bulgarians will celebrate around clubs, restaurants, winter resorts or will travel abroad. Mobile would be those under 30 and with stable incomes.

However, Bulgaria is preferred not only during holidays, but also for permanent settling. The Greek Ta Nea daily comments that Bulgaria is a point of attraction for many Greeks not only as a tourist destinations, but also as a possibility for investments in real estates.

In 2007 the Greeks that had bought properties in Bulgaria are 2%, while in 2008 1%, mostly from Northern Greece.

According to a survey of NCIOM, 56% could give aside between BGN 20 and BGN 100 from their personal finances for the holidays. 17% would spend between BGN 100 and BGN 200 per a person from a household for a rich dinner.

23% of the adults in Bulgaria cannot put aside any money for the holidays and will have a budget of BGN 20.

That is why Christmas discounts are coming just on time. Discounts for different winter goods for the holidays vary from 20% to 50%, a reporters check of FOCUS News Agency showed.

Despite the traditionally high prices along the Vitoshal Boulevard (the most popular Sofia market street), you can find winter coats at the price of up to BGN 100.

Christmas and New Year discounts are valid for more elegant clothes from the spring-summer collection too.

The check showed that people are buying second-hand books en masse. However, there are also people willing to buy luxury books as presents, if the book is worthy.

334. BDZ provides 29 trains with extra carriages

Focus: 2008-12-29

Bulgarian State Railways (BDZ) has provided 29 trains with extra carriages today, press centre of the company informed. The carriages would run with nine express trains in nine directions Sofia- Burgas, Sofia- Gorna Oryahovitsa, Gorna Oryahovitsa Sofia, Sofia Yambol, Plovdiv Vratsa, Vratsa Plovdiv, Plovdiv Varna and Varna Plovdiv.

333. Most expensive highway section inaugurated in Bulgaria

Wise Property: 2008-12-28

A 75 million leva section of highway, only four km long and an integral part of the southern half of the Sofia ring-road has been officially opened for traffic on December 23.

The project was predominantly funded from the state budget.

The road itself is a thorough change of the ring road, not simply a partial reconstruction or refurbishment, but a comprehensive expansion aimed at easing traffic congestion as much as possible.

Where this section of the Sofia ring road once had two lanes in total, it now features six lanes, plus two local-express lanes and two pavements were incorporated to facilitate pedestrians, plus emergency lanes.

Furthermore, the construction of the sector Dragalevtsi to Simeonovo and the adjacent junctions have also been completed.

Prime minister Sergey Stanishev, Sofia mayor Boyko Borissov and Road Infrastructure Agency head Yanko Yankov unveiled on December 23 the most expensive highway section ever build in Bulgaria.

"The construction of a three km long section of the Sofia ring road which will reach the Kambanite borough is to be inaugurated in February," Boyko Borisov was quoted as saying by Focus news agency.

"The project for the northern half of the ring road has already been processed and filed by the Sofia municipality. Its aim is to complete and facilitate the ring road and help relieve traffic congestion on the Trakiya and Lyulin motorway" he said.

332. Kulata-Promahon border checkpoint opened

Focus: 2008-12-23

Kulata-Promahon border checkpoint has been opened, the press center of the Interior Ministry announced.

Border Police say the strike of Greek farmers ceased at 09:50 a.m. on Tuesday. Vehicles can cross the checkpoint in both directions. The tractors have headed for the interior of the country.

331. Denmark and Spain open their labor market for Bulgarians

News BG: 2008-12-22

After a decision of the Spanish government, the two year moratorium for access of Bulgarian citizens to the Spanish labor market is being lifted.

According to the Spanish media, citing the Labor Minister Celestino Corbacho and the Secretary General for the EU Lopes Garido, the reason for the decision is the good economic growth of Bulgaria.

In their announcements they add that there are prerequisites "for the migration flow to reverse" and the immigrants to return to their countries.

Regarding the repeal of the moratorium, the Bulgarian embassy has received a telephone greeting from the immigration advisor in the autonomous government of Madrid Xavier Lascetti and a declaration, in which it is being underlined that the "moratorium was unjust and useless" for the Bulgarian citizens in Spain.

Since May 1 2009 Denmark will remove the restrictions of the labor market, imposed with the transition measures in the free movement of workers, for citizens of the member states, joined after 2004, including Bulgaria and Romania.

According to information of the permanent representation of Denmark in the EU, the decision has been taken this month.

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