Prime Minister Karen Karapetian promoted on Friday a $10 million plan to refurbish Gyumri’s historic old town which the Armenian government says will greatly stimulate economic activity in the impoverished city.
The tourism-oriented program drawn up by Armenia’s Central Bank and a private charity at Karapetian’s initiative calls for capital repairs of the two main streets in Gyumri’s central Kumayri district mainly constructed in the 19th century. This will supposedly attract many Armenian and foreign tourists.
Official said old houses to be reconstructed there over the next two years will offer about 8,000 square meters of commercial space to businesspeople interested in opening shops, restaurants and centers for traditional arts or handicrafts.
Accompanied by several dozen entrepreneurs, Karapetian visited Armenia’s second largest city to tour its old district and attend the official presentation of the tourism development plan. He said Kumayri’s renovation will be financed from a $10 million investment fund that will have mostly private contributors.
“We regard the establishment of the fund and the street repairs as an important catalyst for business processes here,” Karapetian said at the presentation. “The state will stand by this fund with all its budgetary and financial instruments.”
“As a former businessman who was very successful in business, I want to assure you that the invested funds will be recouped quickly,” he told entrepreneurs.
Speaking to journalists afterwards, the premier, in office since September, said he and his family will invest $500,000 of their money in the project.
Some local reporters voiced skepticism about the effort, saying that previous Armenian government failed to make good on their pledges to breathe a new life into Gyumri. “What kind of a guarantee do you want from me?” an irritated Karapetian replied. He insisted that his cabinet is serious about the project.
Gyumri has still not fully recovered from a catastrophic 1988 earthquake that killed 25,000 people and left hundreds of thousands of others homeless in this and other parts of northwestern Armenia. The city has long had one of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the country.
The upcoming launch of the tourism development project should coincide with a large-scale reconstruction of Gyumri streets and roads which have been in an increasingly poor condition in the last few years.
The Yerevan government and the municipal administration secured last year $25 million in funding from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development for the planned street repairs. The money will also be used for installing new and energy-efficient lighting and upgrading the municipal drainage infrastructure.