POPRAD, a city in the foothills of the High Tatras, is combating the outflow of people from its centre into shopping malls recently built on the outskirts. Seventy shops, restaurants and other facilities, inspired by the Italian Pro Loco scheme, have joined together to create the Pre Mesto (For the City) association to draw people back into the city centre, the Hospodárske Noviny daily wrote in May. The emptying of the city centre has hit almost all facilities there.
“Paradoxically, I closed down a patisserie in the centre one year after Hospodárske Noviny labelled it the best patisserie concept in the country,” said Igor Ľudma, who used to run the Domenico patisserie in Poprad’s central square. “People simply disappeared from the centre.”
Apart from mushrooming shopping facilities in its outskirts, Poprad’s centre was hit by the closure of the Prior department store and a cinema. Moreover, several cultural monuments are not currently accessible for various reasons.
Pre Mesto, clustering small entrepreneurs as well as millionaires and philanthropists, and supported by the municipality of Poprad, wants to change the situation. The recipe is simple – to organise activities that will draw people back into the city centre. Already a trial of free WiFi internet access has met with a positive response. Future planned activities include a sports tournament and the Made in Slovakia Days festival presenting local products from sheep farmers to carmakers. Later, Pre Mesto plans to hold a festival of Italian culture and a Christmas market.
According to Martina Kubičková Sabová, who operates Sabo Tour, a travel agency, and sits on the board of the association, the activities in Poprad do not represent an experiment, but implementation of a functioning model taken from Italy, Pro Loco.
Roberto Rizzo from the Italian Embassy in Bratislava told The Slovak Spectator that Italian Pro Loco associations are local clusters, usually launched and supported by municipal bodies to organise tourism, gastronomic, cultural and sports activities in their cities, and which are connected with local traditions, folklore and sustainable ecotourism.
“The main idea is to revive life in villages and towns and to give their citizens a reason to meet, support the sale of typical local food products and draw tourists interested in the region,” said Rizzo.
The project is a result of an initiative of local entrepreneurs inspired by Fabio Bortolini, a member of the board of the Italian-Slovak Chamber of Commerce. Giorgio Dovigi, the chamber's secretary general, told The Slovak Spectator there are 6,100 Pro Loco associations in Italy.
In 2012 Pre Mesto wants to invest about €28,000 in various activities, but later plans to attract sponsors.
Pre Mesto estimates that the sales figures of businesses in the city centre have decreased by half over the last five years. Towns in other regions report similar problems.