Issue 3, 2018. June-July

   

TBILISI'S NIGHT ECONOMY: A NEW MAYOR AND A NEW PLAN TO BOOST JOBS

Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze has created a night mayor post to help make the city a 24-hour town for tourists and locals alike. The plan, inspired by successes in cities in Australia, the U.S. and the UK, aims to attract investment, inspire business and bolster the city's economy.

Tbilisi is enjoying a major influx in tourists but city officials believe there is potential for more: more visitors, more attractions, more business, and longer stays.

Mayor Kakha Kaladze has announced an ambitious program to expand the city's offerings-building on what is currently provided and developing new attractions, as well as the infrastructure, to make it happen.

The man tasked with the job is Sergi Gvarjaladze, a long-time club promoter and a cofounder of the Electronauts, which has been advocating and supporting electronic music in Georgia for the past decade.

There are plenty of challenges to build Tbilisi's night economy including a lack of public transportation from midnight to 6 a.m.; the absence of transportation routes connecting Tbilisi's central night clubs and main restaurants/theaters; public concerns about noise pollution; and the budget to pay for it all.

But Gvarjaladze is optimistic, in part because this initiative is being driven from the mayor's office.

He is also drawing inspiration and optimism from the similar-and successful-undertakings in major (and not-so-major) cities around the world, especially in Australia, the U.S. and the UK.

There is also evidence that night mayors make a major difference in towns closer to home: Vilnius, Lithuania- the only city in the former Soviet Union with a night mayor-has seen a growth of around 200,000 more visitors, attracted by new events since the night economy program started in 2016, Gvarjaladze said.

Bringing New Business to the 'Burbs

The main goal is to bring more business to local districts that are underdeveloped. To do that, Gvarjaladze is looking at what events draw people and where brownfield investment packages can be developed to pitch to investors, among other initiatives.

"The goal and the main idea is to create jobs, to support small- and medium-sized businesses here in Georgia, and to develop and position Tbilisi as a 24/7 city for tourism. And we are very interested in cultural life, and we want to develop the outskirts of Tbilisi, the suburbs of Tbilisi, for tourism," he told Investor.ge.

"You probably know we had 28 percent growth in tourism last year and 50 percent of those visitors were coming to Tbilisi. They mostly spend 2.5-3 days here generally; we want to increase the number of days here and increase the late-night activities for our visitors. In this case it is not just for club life, since club life right now is very successful; they don't need our help. Mostly we want to create-creative ideas, creative projects," Gvarjaladze added.

He believes a combination of planning, investment and community outreach can help push Tbilisi tourism past the Rustaveli-Shardeni loop, creating jobs and rejuvenating the suburbs.

"We have been thinking about nights in museums, a very successful project . . . and we want to create summer activities, especially at night. Things like open air cinemas, mobile theater activities, but also I think sport activities will be a priority for us," he said, adding "we are a southern country and I am always very jealous when I see, in Spain for instance, people playing football at night."

These projects can also create summer jobs for young people, as well as business opportunities.


For instance, he has his eye on Gldani-and Mukhrani, as well as other Tbilisi suburbs- as potential locations for brownfield investments on old buildings that can be repurposed as multifunctional spaces.

"I did a documentary about the history of Gldani, and I have been intently researching this part of the city. This was one of the most innovative projects of that time; very young architects had their vision of modern cities. Actually, this involved a lot of buildings and places for cultural events, sports life-which have been abandoned," Gvarjaladze said.

"Also we understand, especially in the European Union countries, there is a trend to get into those old industrial buildings. If you take Berlin, that is basically those old industrial textile buildings. But I have also been to many places in London, like an old munitions factory that young people turned into a very nice, interesting place," he said.

While these buildings may not be attractive for the casual observer, Gvarjaladze stressed that there is the potential to make them into something great.

"I think that whatever will be done inside and around those buildings will make them more attractive. This is a part of our history, these buildings; this is a part of Tbilisi if we want it or not. This is part of the architecture and the urban part of the city, so why don't we do something with this because it is impossible to destroy them and do something new," he said.

Communication is Key

The night economy program will last several years, Gvarjaladze told Investor.ge, stressing that community support will be crucial to its success.

"On one side, we have the citizens who cannot not sleep at night, and on the other side, business, which we need as well . . . I think the major challenge and issue will be to mediate between those two big groups and to try and find solutions. Generally, the nighttime economy is about communication; it is about the involvement of different groups, and this is what I am trying to provide and support and help with," he said.

"We have been working: we have a plan for the next six months. For the first steps, we have been researching strategies and international experience. Right now, we are compiling models for general research; the next step will be the strategy . . . I think this strategy will be [in place] for at least five years and we will definitely discuss the strategy with the citizens. We do not want to make any decisions without the stakeholders," Gvarjaladze added.

The process has already started: nearly 50 different festivals are planned for this year and Gvarjaladze and his team are working to find late-night elements to tie into the festivals.

In addition, this summer they are planning a large international forum on the late-night economy, where cities from around the region can learn from other countries' experiences with night economies.

"I think if we manage the transportation issue and solve a couple of big epicenters of noise pollution . . . and create a couple of good, creative events in the outskirts, in the suburbs, that could already be a step ahead," he said.

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