Sofia – Hürriyet Daily News
Turkish contractors roaming all around the world have landed in a neighboring country: Bulgaria. KAYI Construction is building the largest mall in the capital city of Sofia. Some 80 percent of the shops have already been rented out. The Serdika Center will offer its visitors a pleasant architectural environment as a starter, the project director believes
TEAM: There is a construction team of 1,500 working on the site at present but this figure is expected to rise to 2,200 soon.
Turkish construction and contracting firm, KAYI Construction is currently working on the largest shopping mall in the Bulgarian capital. The Serdika Shopping Center and Offices in Sofia will open its doors in February.
KAYI Construction made financial headlines recently when it completed and opened the largest mall in the Baltic region: the OZAS Shopping and Entertainment Center in Vilnius on Aug. 20.
Project Director of the Serdika Center, Hasan Çaşka, explained that their business relations with their client, the German investor Ece Project Management, excelled after the Vilnius project and continued in Bulgaria. On April 15, 2008, KAYI Construction was selected as the main contactor for the Serdika Center project in Sofia after an international bid. Serdika is a historical name for Sofia. The Serdika Shopping Center and Offices covers 86,000 square meters and will house more than 200 shops. About 33,000 square meters will be dedicated to office space.
The Serdika Center has an award-winning façade. Visitors will be treated to a pleasant architectural environment as a starter, Çaşka said. It will offer quality to its customers with many international brands opening shops in Bulgaria for the fist time.
Trust in the same client
Having worked with the Ece Group before on the Vilnius project has brought its advantages, Çaşka, an engineer of 15 years, said. Working with the same client generates new projects and new deals. The Serdika Center is an investment of 170 million euros, excluding the land price. KAYI has undertaken a contract of 130 million euros.
There is a construction team of 1,500 working on the site at present but this figure is expected to rise to 2,200. The shopping mall will be competed and opened in February, while the offices will be ready in July.
Of the 1,500-strong team, 1,312 are laborers, the rest are technical and administrative personnel. According to Bulgarian labor law, all laborers must be Bulgarian citizens. The law allows for 50 percent of the technical and administrative to be made up of foreigners. Half of the technical and administrative staff is Turkish while the other half is Bulgarian. Bulgarian citizens of Turkish origin account for 65 percent of the local staff.
Working close to home
KAYI has operated in 11 countries. When working in Bulgaria compared to other countries, one of the biggest disadvantages for them is not being able to use more workers from Turkey. “The biggest asset of the Turkish contractor is our workers. The Turkish worker is hardworking, highly qualified and selfless. They would not hesitate to work long hours especially when they are abroad. Another disadvantage we have here is the visa problem. It takes too much time to obtain a visa. In projects like Serdika where you are competing against time, long waits for visas hamper us,” Çaşka noted.
When it comes to the advantages of working in Bulgaria, Çaşka prioritized the proximity to Turkey. Alp Karataş, the deputy project director, agreed. “The closeness to Turkey eases and erases many logistical problems. Private life becomes so much easier. Knowing that you can drive to Istanbul in a few hours becomes a huge advantage. The climate is the same. The city is cheap, comfortable and safe.”
Karataş also underlined some of the disadvantages created by Bulgarian labor laws. “Qualified Bulgarian workers have left for other EU countries. The quality of the workforce here shifted soon after the entrance to the EU. Even non-qualified personnel have left for EU countries in search of better pay. We are bound to work with inexperienced workers here. We could have done the same job we do with 1,400 workers here with 1,000 people in Turkey.”
No ethnic tension in the site
The presence of the Bulgarian Turks on the site lifts the language barrier considerably, Project Director Çaşka said. The tensions of 1989 are regarded as having been inflicted by the regime, Çaşka said, and not by the people. “Bulgarians believe they never had any conflicts with Turks. What amounted to ethnic oppression in 1989 was caused by the administration. Several of the oppressed Bulgarian Turks have now returned. We don’t have any ethnic tension on the site.”
Although the global crisis seems to have taken its time to hit Bulgaria, it is expected that the worst is yet to come. The year 2010 looks as if it will be the worst year for Bulgaria, Çaşka said. The fact that 80 percent of the shops have been rented out shows the faith in the Serdika Center despite adverse economic indicators, he added.