C. Yiorkadjis: Nicosia is getting a permanent and quality upgrade

At a crucial time for the sustainable development of Cyprus’ cities, the Municipality of Nicosia’s aim is none other than the permanent and quality rejuvenation of both the historical and the broader centre of the capital, according to the town’s Mayor, Constantinos Yiorkadjis.

In an interview with InBusinessNews, Yiorkadjis mentions a plethora of projects that are expected to be completed, including the maintenance and renovation works on the old Municipal Market in the heart of the old town, which are expected to be completed by the end of the year to make way for the CYENS Centre of Excellence.Nicosia is getting a facelift. What projects are currently underway in the city within the walls and which are expected to be delivered in the immediate future?

I am particularly pleased that the progress being made in Nicosia within the walls is now becoming obvious to see, mainly because it is the product of a systematic effort spanning many years, and indeed in some difficult times for our country, but also due to the many challenges and difficulties that we faced, and continue to face, in the specific area next to the Green Line.

The projects currently underway are Trikoupi Street’s restoration, the restoration of the EKATE building which falls under the New Municipality’s complex of buildings, the restoration of the outer part of the Moat’s walls, that is the northern pavement on Stasinou Road, and the maintenance and restoration of the old Municipal Market, which will house the CYENS Centre of Excellence.

Furthermore, restoration work has begun on a building that was purchased by the municipality to create student houses, with works expected to begin soon on a second building as well, while the restoration inner part of the Moat’s walls – that is Constantinou Paleologou Street – is also in the works. Finally, the project of renovating sidewalks and restoring facades on Ledras, Onasagorou and Parodos streets is in the study stage.

What is the broader object and how are you implementing it?

At a crucial time for the sustainable development of Cyprus’ cities, the Municipality’s aim is none other than the permanent and quality rejuvenation of both the historical and the broader centre of the capital.

More specifically, for the within-the-walls city, we had a duty to intervene in a way that the picture of abandonment and deforestation, the results of the invasion and the town’s decades-long division, becomes a thing of the past so we can look to the future with more optimism and confidence.

To achieve this, it requires comprehensive interventions and coordinate actions on multiple levels, which together can multiply the benefits and create momentum in the historical centre.

As such, we proceed to restore streets and landscape facades so as to upgrade the infrastructure and showcase the region’s special character. At the same time, we moved the New Municipality to the heart of the town, complete Eleftheria Square and underground car park on Omirou Avenue, and upgraded and added pavements to Costakis Pantelides Street.

At the same time, in cooperation with the Ministries of Finance and Interior, we provide financial and town-planning incentives to attract residents, businesses and investment, such as the student houses, research centres like CYENS, and higher education institutions, such as the University of Cyprus’ Architecture School.

To this end, the Municipality proceeded to restore three listed buildings to enhance its social services and as I have mentioned before, it is in the process of restoring and forming another two into student houses.

Finally, due to our sensitivity towards promoting culture and because we always understood the importance and role of cultural infrastructure in a region, we have worked on enhancing it, ensuring the operation of the Costas and Rita Severi Museum and the creation of the Hambis Printmaking Museum.

How do you expect the capital’s image to change?

To begin with, I would like to relay some numbers that show the extent of the effort and investment that is taking place. Over the past 10 years, projects worth €100 million have been completed in the historic centre, with another €50m’s worth of projects currently underway. Also, the projects being planned are in the range of €20m, while the state’s budget for the incentive schemes is €50m.

What’s encouraging is that the strategy of coordinated actions has brought results and the restoration is now obvious, such as for example the area where the new Municipality is and the nearby Pentadaktylos and Ermou streets, where there are now unique shops and businesses, beautiful little cafeterias and bars that attract plenty of visitors, especially young people.

There is definitely much more that needs to be done. Sadly, the invasion and division of the town has left many open wounds that cannot be healed with just the click of a button. The only certainty is that on our part, we are continuing the effort to reinforce the momentum that has been created even further.

How have the incentives and sponsorships for permanent residence and boosting entrepreneurship contributed to the town centre?

As I mentioned above, we are now well aware that this multilevel planning – that is creating infrastructure by ranting incentives – has had a positive impact and proved a catalyst in “filly up” the buildings with people; whether they are residents, or workers, or visitors.

For the entrepreneurship project that was part of the Revitalisation/Revival of Nicosia Green Line Areas Programme (2017-2020), 58 applications were received, of which 21 were approved.

Now the Grants Scheme for Strengthening Business Activity, which is funded by the State Budget under the Action Plan to Restore and Revive Nicosia within the Walls, is in effect with a €2m-per-year budget for the period 2022-2026. The amount of the sponsorship will amount to 60% of the eligible costs of each proposal, with a maximum financial assistance amount of €80,000 per project.

For self-owned residences, there was a huge interest in the Housing Plan to Restore and Revive Nicosia within the Walls that was announced on 1 March 2023.

When is the CYENS Centre of Excellence expected to move to the former municipal market building and how will it contribute to upgrading the area?

The maintenance and restoration of the old Municipal Market building will be completed soon and the CYENS Centre of Excellence is expected to move there by the end of the year.

For us, it is very important that the new building will become a reality and indeed, with the contribution of the Republic of Cyprus, the European Regional Development Fund and of course the Municipality. And this is because it is a project that will attract and promote business and the technology, research and innovation industries in our town. Its facilities, in addition to the laboratories and application demonstration areas, will host common work areas, a seminar area, a multimedia studio, a fabrication lab, an electronic prototype area and others.

How will the Faneromeni building be used and when are the various student houses in the old town expected to be completed?

As you know, the University of Cyprus’ Architecture School will be moved to the Faneromeni Gymnasium building. We are particularly happy about this development. The state’s contribution is massive, with an investment that will be covered by the Recovery and Resilience Plan.

Under the same Plan, with financing of €6.9m from the state, the student houses are being built by the Municipality, one on Voulgaroktonou, Arsinoe and Komninos streets, and another on Aristidou Street.

This is an important development as we believe the students that will come will give the area a new lease of life and impetus.

The business in old town Nicosia are fighting to survive. How do you plan to support them and how do you plan to keep the commercial core of the centre alive?

I believe that the successive economic crises that we experience in recent years, the increased cost of living and the constant price rises of many consumer products and the cost of energy have significant reduced the majority of households’ purchasing power, which has inevitably impacted on all businesses Cyprus wide.

But without financial data I cannot know if the situation for businesses in the historic centre is direr than for businesses in other areas. On the other hand, looking at the traffic, I would say that opportunities do exist for the businesses, given that there is a lot of traffic mainly over the weekends, especially on Ledra Street.

As for the municipality’s support to businesses, this has been proved repeatedly.

Indicatively, I will mention that in 2012-2013, financial incentives were granted that exempted new businesses from the obligation to buy parking spaces.

Later, during the Covid-19 pandemic, waste collection and business licence fees were reduced, discounts and exemptions were given from the Municipality's real estate licence fees depending on the impact of the government decrees on businesses, the monthly outdoor dining fee was suspended while at the same time the expansion of outdoor dining areas was allowed.

But our actions did not end there. Over the 2015-2016 period, the Municipality proceeded with a proposal to upgrade the pavements, presented the studies and plans in time, however the project was cancelled at the last minute because of objections by the majority of shopkeepers who said the construction works would affect their businesses. The Municipality respected this decision, despite our strong views over the necessity of the project. In fact, we warned back then that without this project, the pavements would soon be at a disadvantage compared to other areas.

In 2019, were proposed the free beautification of facades and commercial signs, but this was not implemented to the extent we would like, as most shop owners did not agree to this proposal either.

Today, the Municipality of Nicosia has secured a €10m sponsorship to restore the sidewalks. We are already in talks with the affected owners and shopkeepers and this time, we hope there is a positive response so we can move on to the next phase.

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