The simple fact that visitors to Bratislava's downtown core do not recognise it as the centre of the capital of a modern country is perhaps both the strongest argument and answer to why it is necessary to do "something" about upgrading the main square.
The face-lift being planned for SNP is officially called "revitalization". The objective of the SNP Square revitalization project is to boost the quality of life in the city center, to raise employment, to extend business opportunities, to improve parking options, and to create new recreational zones, thus improving the overall environment.
Even the most developed cities have been challenged by the problem of creating additional space to satisfy people's growing social, cultural and commercial needs and the demands of tourism. Many cities solved this problem in radical ways, by moving traffic, culture, leisure, and retail underground. These underground centres became important social-business areas with pedestrian zones.
Bratislava now finds itself before such a decision. The greatest potential for development lies downtown. SNP Square's central position has lured many banks and department stores to locate themselves on the square, but despite its attractive location and symbolic meaning for generations in this country, the square itself does not match the qualities of central spaces in other European metropolises. In its current guise, SNP Square is nothing but a vacant space surrounded by various buildings and disturbed by intense car and public transport traffic.
Two years ago, Bratislava Old Town District Council introduced a project called "Underground Commercial and Leisure Centre" on SNP Square. It requires the construction of a multiple-storey complex of retail, culture and social facilities, as well as underground parking garages. Going underground will keep traffic off the square in accordance with the city's intention to create an attractive pedestrian zone on SNP.
Several feasability studies have been done, one of which showed that with 7,600 square metres of retail space on two underground floors and 800 parking spaces mainly under the upper part of the square, the costs of construction would be $55 million. The project is very similar (albeit smaller) to civic underground designs in Paris, Moscow, Zurich, or Hannover.
Two weeks ago, Bratislava Old Town representatives visited the MIPIM International Real Estate Fair in France's Cannes to seek investors for the SNP Square project. The team held almost 60 meetings with potential investors and developers, mainly from France, Germany, Austria and Great Britain. Over the next two or three months, a short list of the most important investors will be compiled. If this timeline is kept, in five years no citizen of Bratislava will ever again have to explain to visitors on SNP Square that they really are in the very heart of the city.
Milan Vajda is the spokesman for the Bratislava Old Town District Mayor. His column appears monthly. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.