Bulgaria Backs New Chinese ‘Smart City’ Near Sofia

The Saint Sofia project, a huge, high-tech entertainment, retail, hotel and office complex funded by Chinese money, is expected to be built near Bulgaria’s capital over a three-year period.

The large-scale Saint Sofia development, initially announced in 2014, has been granted the status of priority investment project and will benefit from a number of state-guaranteed incentives for a three-year-project, the state-controlled Invest Bulgaria Agency told BIRN on Tuesday.

This was made possible after the coalition government, led by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov adopted a package of measures on August 2 intended to aid the project which is being implemented by Chinese-owned company Bulgarian Development Holdings Limited, BDHL.

“We hope the project will be realised in the next three years,” a spokesperson for Invest Bulgaria told BIRN.

The massive project, which is still at an early stage, foresees the construction of a tourist and entertainment complex which would include hotels with casinos, an aquapark, conference halls, a shopping mall, offices, green spaces and other facilities near the town of Elin Pelin.

The total amount of investment is planned to reach 1.59 billion leva (around 750 million euros), creating 1,850 new jobs, the government said.

The grand project, dubbed “the Bulgarian Las Vegas” by the media, was first announced and granted priority investment status in 2014.

According to the Bulgarian Investment Promotion Act, priority investments benefit from a number of state-granted incentives, including shorter administrative procedures, easier acquisitions of properties, state aid for investments in production and science, concessions for labour costs.

But after the initial announcement of the Saint Sofia project in 2014, no serious progress was made towards building it.

In May, however, China Daily reported that the project was presented in Beijing as a future high-tech innovation which will be pushed through as a part of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.

Belt and Road aims to expand Beijing’s international influence and trade abroad in order to compensate for the slowdown in economic growth at home.

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