A huge, high-tech entertainment, retail, hotel and office complex dubbed The Saint Sofia project and funded by Chinese money is expected to be built near Bulgaria’s capital over a three-year period, said The Balkaninsight.
According to the state-controlled Invest Bulgaria Agency, the large-scale Saint Sofia development which was 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.
After the coalition government led by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov adopted a package of measures on August 2, it became possible for the project to be implemented by Chinese-owned company Bulgarian Development Holdings Limited, BDHL.
“We hope the project will be realized in the next three years,” a spokesperson for Invest Bulgaria said, according to the source.
The massive project is still at an early stage and 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 project is expected to be the construction of a tourist and entertainment complex which would include hotels with casinos, an aqua-park, conference halls, a shopping mall, offices, green spaces and other facilities near the town of Elin Pelin.
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 labor costs. Yet after the initial announcement of the Saint Sofia project in 2014, no serious progress was made towards building it.
The grand project, dubbed “the Bulgarian Las Vegas” by the media, was first announced and granted priority investment status in 2014.
In May, nonetheless, 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. Also, the Chinese source noted that Bulgaria is strategically located along the Silk Road Economic Belt, as it is situated in the southeastern Balkan Peninsula in southeast Europe, connecting the continent to Asia. Therefore, the country's cooperation with China has been increasing steadily: bilateral trade and investment have grown at a fast pace in recent years.
At the heart of the plan is a modern transport, trade and economic corridor running from Shanghai to Berlin, via Eastern and Central Europe, alongside the ‘Maritime Silk Road’, a sea route connecting China, South-East Asia, Oceania and North Africa.
Bulgaria’s economic relations with China have developed significantly over the past decade, with the Bulgarian exports growing more than six fold during the period 2006-2016, to $480 million. The country imported Chinese goods worth over $1.1 billion last year, national statistics show.