As a few embers still smouldered in the Plovdiv “Tobacco Town” warehouses devastated by fire two days earlier, Bulgaria’s Culture Minister Vezhdi Rashidov said that the owners should be tracked down and forced to restore the buildings to their original appearance.
His statement, during a visit on August 22 to the site of the blaze, was reminiscent of what he had said months earlier about the case of Plovdiv’s 8 Odrin Street tobacco warehouse attempted demolition – that he was ordering the owners to rebuild.
In that case, the chief architect of Plovdiv and the representative of the owners of the historic building face numerous criminal charges over the attempt to raze the warehouse in March 2016. In the months since then, little or nothing has happened about protecting and restoring the building, apart from the municipality voting a few thousand leva to protect the roof.
Looking on the four burnt-out warehouses in Bulgaria’s second city – the one that will be European Capital of Culture in 2019, a matter of pride for residents but also a matter for bitter irony among the many Bulgarians deeply upset by the August 21 fire – Rashidov described himself as “shocked”.
He said that he would table a proposal to amend the Cultural Heritage Act so that “such violations” could be penalised with a fine of up to 30 000 leva (about 15 000 euro).
The cause of the inferno is not yet known, whether it was a case of arson or an accident.
The National Institute of Immovable Cultural Heritage, which falls under Rashidov’s ministry, said that communication with the Plovdiv Municipality was difficult and it still did not know who were the owners of the burned warehouses.
The same morning, local media reported Plovdiv mayor Ivan Totev as saying who the real owners were.
Three of the properties were owned by Ripa Ltd, registered at Plovdiv’s 77 Ruski Boulevard. This was represented by the former honorary consul of Italy in Plovdiv, Pietro Luigi Ghia. Pietro Luigi Ghia’s warehouse that burnt on Saturday is owned by Galaxy Property Group Ltd, registered in Dunav Boulevard in Plovdiv. Its owners also have a cigarette factory.
Totev said, “we are setting up a committee with the Ministry of Culture, which within one month examines the condition of the burned buildings and come up with a prescription to the owners”.
He rejected allegations of plans for new construction on the site of the devastated buildings. “No investment plans have been submitted for any future development on these properties. We have had not had even informal talks with the owners of these warehouses.”
Talk of plans for shopping malls in the area were a conspiracy theory, Totev said.
He said that there was no law by which the owners could be obliged to restore the properties.