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Cyprus

Parking pressure in Nicosia’s old town

The mushrooming in cafes and bars in the old city has led to severe traffic congestion

By Andria Kades

The boom in Nicosia old town which has seen new cafes, bars and restaurants open almost weekly has brought with it a massive problem over parking.

After decades of neglect, over the last three years the old city has become the place to socialise and at certain times of the day its narrow streets become choked with cars unable to find a spot to park.

Whilst the greatest pressure is concentrated near Ledra and Onasagorou streets, where most of the bars and cafes are located, there is also a severe shortage of parking around Famagusta Gate.

The municipality-run Famagusta Gate cultural centre, situated in the city walls, used to only host occasional exhibitions or shows. To drum up more money, the municipality now rents it out for weddings and christenings.

Competitive rental charges of €700 for a dinner and €1000 for a reception has meant the centre has become a popular venue, but nearby businesses and residents say parking problems have spiralled out of control. The municipality says there is free parking for up to 50 cars nearby, but the receptions are often for hundreds of people.

“When one of the highlights of our cultural spots (Famagusta gate) is used for weddings, it becomes chaos,” says Vassos Ftohopoullos, the owner of the long-established Aegeon tavern nearby.

He said it was unbelievable that there were only two streets offering free parking in the area – Ammohostou and Ehtoros – to serve between 30 to 40 restaurants.

Earlier this week, the municipality announced they were opening up 400 new parking spots in a commercial area of Nicosia near the embassy of Greece and that there are ongoing negotiations for a new parking spot in the outskirts of the walled city. They have purchased small buses that will travel frequently from the walled city to Makarios Avenue. The buses are expected to arrive in August and the municipality says it will ‘soon’ call for tenders.

Ftohopoullos however remains unconvinced. “We have been hearing this (new parking) for 10 years.”

The problem essentially started back in 2012 when, in a move to encourage businesses to move into the area, the municipality decided to scrap a law that had required shops, bars, cafes and any other businesses to buy parking spots for their potential customers. The businesses came flooding in. So did the customers – and their cars.

With the aims of the initiative achieved, the municipality re-introduced the parking place regulation in January.

Municipal spokesman Makis Nicolaides said the decision to re-introduce the regulations was not linked to traffic congestion, although he stressed the municipality was well aware of the problem and was trying to combat it.

The municipality has also introduced new restrictions as to where new businesses can open. There are limited spots in Ledra, Onasagorou and a few other streets in old Nicosia but Famagusta gate is no longer available.

In the streets where businesses can open they now have to pay the municipality for parking spots that are not actually physically available. This means that although the municipality will not provide parking spots – as there are hardly any left – a business owner still has to pay €3417 per car for a potential parking spot within the walled city and €2563 for a parking spot on the pavement. How many spaces a business is expected to pay for will depend on the size, type and location of the business, among other factors.

If an applicant cannot pay the full amount, they can pay the municipality €1000 per year and obtain a temporary licence which will only become permanent once they have paid off the full amount.

Alternatively, if a potential business owner makes an agreement with a private parking provider and can show the municipality a contract, they can proceed with the application.

The renting out of Famagusta Gate for weddings and christening has added to the pressure over parking
The renting out of Famagusta Gate for weddings and christening has added to the pressure over parking

At Famagusta Gate, the parking issue is exacerbated by the presence of the Mitsides flour and pasta factory, located right opposite the venue. Whenever loading takes place the narrow street can become particularly blocked.

“When there are trucks there, it’s chaos. They have another factory in Dali why do they need this one too?” said one disgruntled business owner.

While several business owners have expressed their wishes for the factory to relocate with compensation, Mitsides says it would very much like to but it cannot afford to do so, and no offer has been made from the Nicosia municipality.

Marketing manager for the factory Marietta Mitsidou said she was aware of the traffic problem but it only lasted 15 minutes and they always had a member of staff outside to direct cars.

As the situation stands now, Ftohopoullos complains his customers often have to park quite far away and although a young person might not mind “what about a 40 or 50-year-old woman wearing heels? What about an old man?”

“Businesses will close because they can’t find parking,” he said. “The whole thing will be run by the mafia where we will have to pay people to provide us with certain parking spots,” he added, predicting that this would irrevocably lead to ludicrous prices.

But for others, the old city’s parking problems are as much an issue of mentality as they are lack of space. “We’re OK about spending an extortionate amount on a meal but can’t pay three euros for a parking spot for the expensive cars we like to show off,” grumbled 43-year-old Stella Georgiou who works in the old town.

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