By Constantinos Psillides
THE NICOSIA municipality is in a race against time to complete the Eleftheria Square project by December 2015 or it stands to lose the vital funding allocated by the EU.
The loss would be huge. EU funds would cover 85 per cent, or €25.5 million of the estimated total cost of €30 million. Ten per cent of the cost will be covered by the Nicosia municipality and the remaining five per cent by the state. Missing the deadline isn’t an option, as neither the local authority nor the cash-strapped state has the funds to cover the loss.
Yet completing the renovation on time poses a massive challenge, because it requires everything to go right in a project where up to now everything has gone wrong.
For a start the project was supposed to be completed by 2013 and has already received a two year extension by the EU. A further extension is highly unlikely, especially on a project that is nowhere near being finished.
The reasons for the delays are numerous, among them work carried out by the Antiquities Department on the Venetian wall, but uppermost is the dispute between the contractor, the municipality and the London-based architectural office of Zaha Hadid, the famous Iraqi architect who designed the project.
The contractor who won the tender in 2011, Miltiades Neofytou Civil Engineering Contractors & Developers Ltd, finally gave up on the works last year after repeated delays drove building costs up and led to a legal dispute with the municipality.
One important delay concerned the bridge connecting Evagoras and Ledra streets and the underground parking which should have been ready by February 2013. The contractor asked for a one year extension but failed to deliver. The bridge is an essential part of the project, as it will provide access from the walled city to Makarios Avenue, giving a much-needed boost to what was once Nicosia’s busiest shopping area.
The contractor blamed the municipality and the architect for the delays and demanded a 552 day extension on the completion date and €3 million in compensation.
Faced with the probability of not finishing the project on time and losing the EU funds, the municipality settled with the contractor last month, paying the company €530,000. The municipality has now called for new tenders.
Relations between the contractor and Hadid’s office had become tense soon after work started. In the most widely reported example, it was said that they had argued for nine months just over the colour of the concrete to be used in the erection of the bridge’s support structures. The architects had a specific shade of white in mind and reportedly shot down a number of alternatives proposed by the contractor.
In an open discussion held at the Pallas Theatre in Nicosia on Wednesday, mayor Constantinos Yiorkadjis explained the reasons behind his decision to dissolve the partnership with the former contractor.
“The framework of collaboration between the two parts was problematic from the beginning, causing legal problems, disputes and demands that resulted in the project being delayed. Resolving our differences in court would be time consuming and would essentially lead to loss of funding,” he told his audience of Nicosia residents. The new tender procedure is due to open this week, and although it usually takes months for a tender on a project like this to be chosen, municipality officials believe work on the site could restart as early as June or July.
To speed things up the municipality is considering splitting the tender into two: one for the Eleftheria Square revamp, and the other for the underground parking below Omirou Street. Miltiades Neofytou had been awarded both projects. The official line is that the work is expected to take 12 months to complete – July 2015 – almost five months before the EU deadline.
A source close to the project, who wished to remain unnamed, told the Sunday Mail that effective communication between the architect and the contractor will be crucial to realising this optimistic forecast.
“In almost all projects in Cyprus both the architect and the contractor live on the island so communication between them is immediate. With an architect that is abroad, communication problems are expected to arise,” he said.
“Establishing channels of effective communication between the two sides is a necessity for the project to be completed on time and in the way the architect envisioned it,” the source said, adding that if everything goes according to plan the project could even be finished by the end of May 2015.
With the threat of having to find €25 million if the deadline is missed, it is not surprising that completing Eleftheria Square on schedule is the municipality’s “number one priority”. “That’s why we are proceeding with opening new tenders, with the aim of finishing it within the timeframe set by the funding agreement with the EU,” Yiorkadjis told the Sunday Mail this week.