TBILISI, DFWatch – A large crowd gathered Saturday on Gudiashvili square in Tbilisi to protest against City Hall’s plans to modernize it.

The rally participants demand that City Hall organizes a public meeting about the plans to reassure people that the square is not in danger. They claim the project has not been agreed with society.

Gudiashvili lies not far from Freedom Square, and most non-Georgians might know it best as the location of Cafe PurPur (see map below).

What sparked the protest was a notice on city hall’s web pages a few weeks ago announcing real estate opportunities on Gudiashvili square.

“This project’s main goal is the reconstruction of the historic buildings which are located in this area. The buildings can be transformed into hotels, cafes or restaurants,” the statement says.

But the protesters think that that the new project will destroy the historical values of the square.

It later emerged that the Austrian Company Zechner & Zechner has won the competition for the project, and their illustrations are available on the internet.

Nine buildings surround the square, which also has a centuries old history. Demonstrators asked that the buildings, which are currently on the verge of falling apart, are restored.

Alexander Elisashvili, member of an organization called Hamkari, says people were evicted from these buildings several years ago so restoration works could start. But then time passed, and now the buildings have been left to themselves for four years. If people hadn’t been evicted, they would have at least kept the roof from leaking, he pointed out.

“When a person is living there and the water is coming down from the roof, he will fix it by putting tiling there. It’s already four years these buildings are left without human hands.”

“The floors below the ground will also be partially used for self-contained restaurant space. The office and residential space are planned on the upper floors. Similarly the architectural design follows the urban integration concept in attempting to respond to the scale and character of the location,” the project description of Zechner & Zechner reads.

But the plan has been negatively received by many, who call the project absurd. Apart from all the other problems, they argue, it absolutely does not fit into that location in the old district of Tbilisi.

Tbilisi City Hall responded with a brief statement that they just recently learned from social networks that someone is opposed to the renewal of Gudiashvili Square, and that there are no other proposals for the square. It says that a project to rehabilitate the square is prepared and points to the website where illustrations show what it will look like when finished.

“Our priority is to maintain the cultural heritage of Gudiashvili square and the historic buildings and generally the urban fabric.”

“Tbilisi City Hall claims that the reinforcement works are being carried out, but I cannot see anything except just two wooden boards put under there,” Elisashvili says. “I suspect that something really bad is happening about the future of this square.”

Protesters said Saturday that until their demands are met and the square’s future becomes clear, they will continue rallying every Saturday by selling and exhibiting artworks and holding performances. The rallies are called Place the Gudiashvili and protesters say it will be ‘occupied’ until the government says what it is going to do.

“We demand that this process is stopped, beautiful buildings of historical heritage restored and important space for the city left as it is now!” read a petition which was signed by participants during the protest.

The statement from City Hall says that the land is the property of City Hall, and that there are specific plans for the development of this area.

“However, according to the resolution, the place’s development may include the following functions: hotel, residential, offices and retail.”

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