Plans to build a city of 500,000 from scratch may not survive after he leaves office.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili conceded defeat Tuesday and pledged to step aside peacefully when his term runs out in October 2013 (not a given in the post Soviet world). But what will become of one of Saakashvili's most audacious proposals -- a brand new city of more than half a million people on the swampy shores of the Black Sea?
Named Lazika, the city was dreamed up by Saakashvili last December. He planned for skyscrapers and buildings and a major port to rise within a decade, creating the country's second most populous city virtually overnight. As this New York Times article from April explains, the idea prompted many questions, especially about funding such a large project. Reporter Ellen Barry writes:
The questions extend to practical matters, like how Lazika could attract half a million residents in a country of about 4.5 million that is neither growing in population nor urbanizing.
Financing is another concern: Four months ago, Mr. Saakashvili said Georgia had begun talks with several large investors from Europe and Asia who would shoulder most of the long-term building cost, which the president estimated at $600 million to $900 million. No investor has yet publicly committed, though, leaving it unclear how much of the burden would fall to Georgia’s budget, which was $4.2 billion last year.
Just days before the election, Saakashvili was in Lazika for the official groundbreaking, though construction has been underway for months. "Today we started building Lazika city," Saakashvili said during a press conference. "It will be massive and the largest port on the Black Sea, as well as having the deepest canyon. The shortest road from China to Europe passes through Samegrelo. Enterprises will be created here, a lot of money will be invested, investors from around the world will create new companies and hundreds of new hotels will be built."
But that dream may not take form. Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire businessman and philanthropist who won Monday's election, has criticized many of Saakashvili's plans, including Lazika. He derided that plan as recently as Tuesday, right after Saakashvili conceded defeat. Ivanishvili will likely take over as Prime Minister of Georgia, where he and Saakashvili will work side-by-side until the president's term ends in October. That may be the same day his dream for Lazika ends as well.
Image credit: David Mdzinarishvili / Reuters