AFTER THE FLOOD, TBILISI REBUILDS
The Tbilisi flood created waves of destruction, killing 22 people and decimating the zoo and the highway, as well as scores of homes and businesses. As the city rebuilds, a new debate over the fate of Vera Ravine has begun.
Tbilisi is focused on rebuilding after the flood, Deputy Mayor Irakli Lekvinadzetold Investor.ge.
Major challenges facing the city include compensating families who lost homes or need temporary housing while their homes are being repaired; rebuilding the highway that ran through the central districts of Vake and Saburtalo; restoring roads linking Tbilisi and neighboring villages; and relocating the zoo.
There were also several businesses harmed by the flood, including a private dog shelter.
The most pressing is, of course, housing. The latest statistics show 160 families suffered property losses due tothe flood.
In July, the city government created a two-part compensation package for citizens who lost housing need to rebuild homes following the flood, based both on the number of people who were living in the lost houses and the market value of the properties. People applying for assistance can opt for either model. Lekvinadze said that 40 families have already lodged a claim, and, based on the government's assessment, they collectively suffered damages worth 10 million lari ($4.5 million).
Total damages from the flood, including city infrastructure, are reported to be over 100 million lari ($45 million).
The Debated Valley
At the heart of the recovery plans is the debate about the future of the Vera River valley.
Many urban planners and environmentalists have come out against allowing development to return to the valley in the aftermath of the flood.
The director of the NGO "City Institute of Georgia," Mamuka Salukvadze,told Investor.ge that the city plan never included building the Vake-Saburtalo highway in the valley; it was considered a recreational zone until 2009.
The construction of the highway cost 100 million lari when it was built; it will cost half that to "rehabilitate" the area and turn it into a modern city park.
Salukvadze was also against any commercial development in the valley, a process that had started prior to the flood. But the head of the Business Chamber of Georgia, Emzar Jgerenaia, has proposedbuilding a "Georgian Manhattan" in the valley.
"The essence of the project is to create a small, beautiful Manhattan in Tbilisi with its own recreational zone, dam, etc. The "Manhattan" project includes the restoration of the recreational zone, creating a park with sport grounds, hotels, business centers and buildings," he told Investor.ge.
The project is estimated to cost $1.4 million and, according to Jgerenaia, there is already initial interest from investors.
"Businesspeople have expressed serious readiness to fund great amounts in this project. We must change the vision. The Vera Valley mustn't represent a place of disaster but a place of the future," he said.
Tbilisi Mayor Davit Narmania has not ruled out either option for the valley, and was quoted in an article published in the July issue of Liberali magazine as saying that if the Manhattan project provided maximum security, it would be possible to develop a business center there.
Regardless of the ultimate future of the valley, the Vake-Saburtalo highway will definitely be rebuilt, the mayor has repeatedly said, promising it will be ready - with a safer, flood-ready design - by this autumn.
Plans for a NewZoo
The future of the zoo has already been determined as well: the city has pledged to follow through with long-shelved plans to build a new zoo on a 40 hectare plot near the Tbilisi Sea.
Narmania told journalists that preliminary work on the zoo will begin in the autumn and construction will be underway by the spring of 2016.
Zoo Director Zurab Gurielidze told Investor.ge the priority is building a modern zoo that is affordable for everyone.
He noted that they are studying the experiences of several countries.
"Israeli and American projects are comparatively cheap...but they aren't as great as English and German projects," he said.
What is left of the existing zoo, about half of the original 600-animal population, will be open for visitors in September, according to the zoo administration.
The total cost for the new zoo is currently unknown.
Tbilisi Deputy Mayor Lekvinadze said that, in total, the government has received 24 million lari for flood relief, half of which has come from the country's budget. There have been 10 million lari in donations from the public and business community.
In addition, there have been large donations from abroad and from charity organizations at home, including from former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.
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