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04 Jun 10

Pristina's Union Hotel to be Bulldozed

The former Union Hotel on Mother Teresa Boulevard, a Pristina landmark is to be knocked down. The city's mayor, Isa Mustafa, decided last week to withdraw planning permission for the renovation of the former hotel, which was badly damaged in a fire last August.

Belinda Vrapi

The building was put up for sale in 2007 by the Kosovo Privatisation Agency and bought by QMI, a company owned by Aziz Tafaj, for €3.2 million.

Despite the blaze, Tafaj told Balkan Insight last September that work would start on the plan to build a new square around the building, while retaining the original facade. Tafaj said the restoration of the Union building will be completed by September 15, 2010.

But work on the 1927 structure has been slow and the decision to withdraw the planning permission to maintain the façade came after a review of the report by the committee of experts of Cultural Heritage within the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports.

In a statement, Pristina Municipality explained that Mayor Mustafa’s decision was based on the report of the committee of experts who concluded that the building sustained 80 per cent damage in the conflagration.

The findings concluded that the building, designed by an Austrian architect and opened in 1927, no longer presents ‘any cultural or architectural value’. The municipality also announced that it would begin legal proceedings against Tafaj because of the damage to the building.

A spokesperson for Pristina Municipality, Muhamet Gashi, told Balkan Insight that the case against Tafaj was due to his alleged negligence of the building and did not suggest that he was responsible for the fire. A homeless man was arrested in connection with the blaze shortly after the fire.

Plans to demolish parts of the building to make way for a new Ibrahim Rugova square, named after the late president of Kosovo, last year sparked fierce opposition from locals, led by a group of artists.

The municipality’s decision to withdraw planning permission has again drawn criticism. The Kosovo Architects Association said Pristina had enough squares and not enough historic buildings, calling for the former Union Hotel to be protected.

Newspaper columnist Shkelzen Maliqi wrote in the Express newspaper. "I don’t know what the real reason [for the decision] is, if it’s business interests or ideology, but both are enjoying this barbarism that has occurred."

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