We know how much the people of Novi Sad love and cherish their city, but in recent years, it seems they have decided to double its capacity, both in width and height. The construction boom, boosted by unprecedented public and private investments, is visible at every step. New state-of-the-art residential and office complexes are springing up all over the city, more square footage has been in demand in industrial zones for a long time, and the capital infrastructure projects that are currently being implemented on this scale are not being implemented in any other European city. While getting a new face and changing its urban image, Novi Sad is also doing everything to keep its soul but also "purify the lungs" of the city, with the aim of being declared the Green Capital of Europe after it has already been acknowledged as the European Capital of Culture. We talked about all this with Milan Djurić, the mayor of Novi Sad, who proudly points out that Novi Sad is currently realizing everything that it used to dream about and that all new projects will significantly improve the quality of life in this city and certainly attract even more investments.
Novi Sad / Photo: Aleksandar Milutinović
Novi Sad is in the process of realizing its biggest investment cycle. The city budget for 2023 foresees 14.4 billion dinars for 195 projects. For which projects have the largest funds been allocated? What will be improved and new in Novi Sad by the end of the year?
The fact that the city budget for 2023 is planned at 40.65 billion dinars and is 153 percent higher, i.e., by 24.56 billion dinars, compared to 2012, when the realization of the budget was 16.09 billion dinars, clearly speaks of the growth of the public finances of our city. This is the result of great effort and work over the last ten years to attract and realize foreign and domestic investments. Increased economic activity in the area of Novi Sad, which recorded continuous growth from 2012 until today, contributed to an increase in employment, which, as a result, led to an increase in the total income of the city and thus the volume budget. This improved the quality of life in the city itself, primarily through the realization of numerous capital investments but also through the improvement of the communal system, increased investment in education, health, culture, and sports, as well as realizing greater rights for citizens in the fields of social and child protection. I will single out several large capital projects. These are the new bridge over the Danube in the extension of Bulevar Evrope, the bypass around Novi Sad, the new pedestrian and bicycle bridge over the Danube, which rises on the pillars of the former Franz Joseph bridge, another new bridge, also over the Danube, on the route of the Fruškogorski corridor, the development of the Almaš area, regional waste management system, construction of traffic areas with accompanying infrastructure – Mišeluk 3, construction of a bicycle path on the Novi Sad-Rumenka-Irmovo-Kisač-Čenej section and the Novi Sad-Begeč bicycle path from Sime Matavulja Street in Novi Sad to Dunavska Street in Futog, construction of the roundabout near Bulevar Cara Lazara and Fruškogorska Street, construction of an elementary school in the Jugovićevo settlement, construction of the "Laza Kostić" Gymnasium, construction of the cultural center facility in the Bistrica settlement, reconstruction and extension of the "Desanka Maksimović" Primary School facility in Futog, construction of the health center in the Vidovdan settlement, construction of a sports complex in Futog and much more.
The bridge over the Danube, in the extension of Bulevar Evrope, is part of the ring road around Novi Sad / Photo: City of Novi Sad
One of the most important city projects is the complete revitalization of the Almaš area, a protected cultural and historical entity, which includes the reconstruction of 600 houses and new infrastructure in 20 streets. What will be done on this project during this year, and what will this neighborhood, which they call the soul of Novi Sad, look like in the end?
The spatial cultural-historical unit Almaš area, at the proposal of the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of the City of Novi Sad, was designated as a cultural asset by the Government of the Republic of Serbia in 2019. The protection of this area preserves the very idea of the city as a layered creation, whose facades and historical significance can be seen in the streets. The total area of the fortified unit, together with the protected environment, is slightly less than 23 hectares. It is located in the southeastern part of Novi Sad and encompasses most of Podbara. This project is part of the joint reconstruction project of the City of Novi Sad and the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, which was also confirmed by the signing of the agreement on joint investment, realization of investment, and ongoing maintenance projects. The restoration of the Almaš area is a very complex undertaking because it involves a large number of participants, from the Institute for the Protection of Monuments to security guards, holders of public authorities, and contractors. We also established a working body and have coordination meetings once a week so that there are no delays. In 2022, the conceptual solution was first prepared and presented publicly to the residents of the Almaš area, and then the draft of the project was prepared. It is planned to work in several stages, but each individual stage includes all the planned works so that, when it is finished, the entire street will be renovated, from the infrastructure to the facades and roofs. Work is underway on the 2nd phase in the streets of Sava Vuković, Zlatna greda, Skerlićeva, Djordje Jovanović, Milovan Vidaković, part of Zemljane ćuprije, and part of Nikola Pašić, and this year public procurement is also planned for another phase of works in another 10 streets. What will this neighborhood look like when it's all over? The way European capitals look, because Novi Sad did not get its title of European Capital of Culture for no reason. We are part of the family of European cities, and we are very proud of that.
The revitalization of the Almaš area is a joint project of the provincial and city authorities / Photo: City of Novi Sad
All these projects, along with more than 250 major private construction investments currently being implemented, make Novi Sad one of the largest construction sites in this part of Europe. Many new residential and office complexes have already sprung up, and even more are in the pipeline. How do you, as a mayor but also as a citizen of Novi Sad, see the new urban image of your city, and how much do you like it?
We make our dreams come true. We realize everything that was once a dream. That's right, Novi Sad is becoming the largest construction site in this part of Europe. To a large extent, those from the private sector, which have been expanding in our city in recent years, contribute to all public investments. In March alone, a total of 452 requests for building permits were submitted. This speaks precisely about the development of our city, where the entire environment and economic climate have been changing for the last ten years. Today, more square footage is required in our industrial zones, and the same is true when it comes to housing and office premises. This year we are starting the second phase of the development of the city center, we are finishing the construction of two public garages, and at one point we will be building three bridges at the same time. There are currently two active bridge construction sites. We will continue to develop our city and invest in all its segments. We will try to make Novi Sad, which has already won two titles, namely the European Capital of Culture and the Youth Capital of Europe, the holder of the third one, the Green Capital of Europe.
New settlement in Jugovićevo, with apartments for members of the security forces / Photo: City of Novi Sad
Residential construction is in full swing in Novi Sad. In which parts of the city are the most new buildings springing up, and what other locations could be attractive to investors in accordance with the urban plan of the city?
In recent years, our city has been the "city of cranes" due to the massive construction of residential, commercial, and infrastructure projects. Novi Sad has 26,000 more inhabitants compared to the previous census, and, according to the new demands, we are becoming a kind of capital of new construction in Serbia. The most important thing is that we got back on our feet, both as a city and as a country, and that we created an environment that is attractive to investors. Residential buildings are built in practically all settlements, but Telep, Podbara, and Petrovaradin stand out in terms of the number of construction sites. In addition to private investors, the state and the city are also investing, and we were also part of a global project. A new settlement with apartments for members of the security forces sprung up on Jugovićevo, then we built apartments for refugees and displaced persons through the Regional Housing Program, which provided permanent care for 600 families. There is currently a public call for solidarity apartments at the entrance to Veternik, in Momčilo Tapavica Street. Work on these buildings is still in progress, and so far two of the six slats have been completed. A total of about 200 apartments will be intended for families with low average incomes who have several family members, most of whom are children. In this way, we are trying to solve the problem of social housing for that category of population. So, the image of our city is constantly changing in terms of housing. Recently, the tendency has been for the city to expand in width, so the Srem side of the city is developing intensively. Thus, we allocated almost one billion dinars from the city budget for the implementation of the project in Mišeluk. This implies the construction of communal infrastructure for a completely new part of the city for housing, which in the future, I believe, will be one of the most beautiful settlements in Novi Sad. Also, according to the urban plan of the City of Novi Sad until the year 2030, it is planned to renovate the location on Trandžament in Petrovaradin, and a general city center south of the Futoški put is planned.
New kindergarten in Grbavica / Photo: City of Novi Sad
Construction of new and reconstruction of old office buildings, expansion of the free zone, new logistics centers, and industrial facilities—this entire sector of commercial real estate in Novi Sad is evidently expanding. Which new projects of this type will be implemented this year?
We are proud of the fact that more square footage is required in our industrial zones because this promises prosperity for the entire city and the entire community and is associated with new factories and new jobs. The world's biggest names operate in Novi Sad today, and we, as a city, are doing everything we can to expand that list. Currently, Continental, Nidec, Barry Callebaut, Lear, Aptiv, and BMTS are on that list; they are all leaders in their industries and activities. We fight for new investments every day, and in the coming weeks I expect to share the good news about new investments with our fellow citizens. Currently, the working zone Kać, which has huge potential, Sever 4, but also Sever 1, are still being developed, and we as a city are doing everything when it comes to the development of communal infrastructure in order to ensure the conditions for doing business in these zones.
The Continental factory in the Kać industrial zone is the biggest investment of this German company in Serbia so far / Photo: Continental
What certainly increases the investment and any other value of Novi Sad are capital infrastructure projects: the construction of the Fruškogorski corridor, as many as three new bridges, the construction of the high-speed railway to Subotica... How far along are all of the aforementioned projects, and is it even possible to quantify the extent to which this infrastructure will improve Novi Sad's quality of life and business environment?
All these projects record progress and show strong intensity in their implementation. The projects you mentioned are vital, strategic, and very important, so they will undoubtedly greatly affect the quality of life of the people of Novi Sad and all those who come to our city. In Novi Sad this year, we will build three new bridges that will connect the Bačka and Srem sides across the Danube river, and two are currently under construction. It sounds unreal, as if we were choosing, but in principle, all three bridges were planned a long time ago. It will contribute to the relief of traffic jams, connect Novi Sad directly to the Fruškogorski corridor, move heavy freight traffic out of the city, reduce harmful gas emissions... By building a pedestrian-bicycle bridge, in addition to creating a huge tourist potential, in the future we will also organize the Petrovaradin suburb as a pedestrian zone. The construction of three bridges brings so many fundamentally good things to our city, but also to our country, that a few minutes are not enough for me to tell you all about them. We are actively involved in the railway project, which is of national importance, every day. Work is being done intensively on the construction of the railway to Subotica, the completion of which is planned by the end of 2024. The high-speed train "Soko" has become a favorite means of transport for all of us, so now we enjoy a fast, comfortable, and safe ride. I am convinced that by building the railway in its entirety, this project will further affect economic growth, all economic indicators, and the ultimate satisfaction of citizens and visitors.
Banovina public garage, one of two under construction / Photo: City of Novi Sad
Novi Sad is an extremely attractive tourist destination. There are more and more river tourists, and you are also known as the host of amazing events. To what extent do the existing hotel facilities meet the needs? Are there any additional hotels planned to be built, such as the current project of the Hyatt hotel that will be built on the site of the existing Park hotel?
Last year, Novi Sad recorded over 560,000 overnight stays, which is 30 percent more than in the year preceding the pandemic, and a record when it comes to tourism. Numerous promotional campaigns, both in Serbiam and in the regionm and in certain European countries, contributed to this. That Novi Sad is a notable destination has been confirmed at each of the ten tourism fairs where our city's offer has been presented since the beginning of the year. Novi Sad's hotels are well occupied, and this percentage is significant even in the winter months. During large events, such as the Agricultural Fair, Exit Festival, large business gatherings, or sports events, as a rule, more rooms are required. Last year, a new Element hotel opened in Novi Sad, along with several other lodgings that are currently in the process of being categorized as hotels. Also, the number of accommodation units owned by citizens is constantly growing. On the other hand, it is expected that the closure of the Park Hotel and the permanent increase in the number of tourists, as well as business visitors, will create certain problems due to the lack of accommodation capacity in the coming period. Some of the hotels have shown interest in expanding their capacity, but for now we do not have precise information about the opening of new accommodation facilities. All this will, to some extent, be compensated by the construction of the Hyatt hotel in three years. And not only that, the arrival of the world's major hotel chains (Sheraton, Hyatt) points to the fact that Novi Sad is recognized as a city with an enviable tourist offer. Also, this points to the fact that the city is recognized as a congress destination where, very soon, M.I.C.E. tourism will take on a large role and be one of the more dominant forms of tourism. It is well known that business visitors stay in high-category hotels, longer on average, and spend significant money at the destination. All of the above could greatly influence other potential investors to opt for Novi Sad, and accordingly, we can expect an increase in the number of accommodation units in the coming period.
The Creative District has 13 facilities intended for cultural projects / Photo: City of Novi Sad
Last year, Novi Sad very successfully carried out the title of European Capital of Culture. One of its greatest achievements is certainly the establishment of the Creative District as a center for young artists and creative activities. How much will this district refresh the cultural scene of Novi Sad this year?
We are very proud of the fact that Novi Sad was the European Capital of Culture in 2022. It was a project of national importance for the Republic of Serbia since it contributed to the development of infrastructure, wider access to culture, improvement of the image of the city, development of the tourism industry, and strengthening of the cultural and creative industries. The most significant infrastructure projects are the newly built and adapted facilities in the network of cultural stations (Svilara, Edjšeg, Barka, Bukovac, Rumenka, Liman and others), the Creative District with 13 facilities intended for cultural projects, and the Music and Ballet School, which houses the city's first concert hall. The arrangement of the Creative District, which is one of the legate projects of the European Capital of Culture, significantly changed the appearance of the city. The work is still ongoing, and the plan is to finish everything in the next five years. A draft document is being prepared that will regulate the conditions of use of space in the District because we want to ensure that its use is exclusively in the service of culture.
Development of energy efficiency, subsidies for solar panels and the purchase of bicycles, improvement of waste management, greening of public areas—these are just some of the activities that are bringing Novi Sad closer to the title of the Green Capital of Europe. What would you single out as the most significant green projects for this year, and what further goals have you set for Novi Sad to truly become a green city?
The City Administration for Environmental Protection in Novi Sad was the first in Serbia to set aside money in 2021 for the purpose of supporting residents' purchases of new bicycles in the amount of 10,000 dinars. This activity greatly contributed to the increase in the number of cyclists on the streets of Novi Sad, with the tendency for bicycles to largely replace the use of cars in the coming years. In 2023, we decided on 20 million dinars for citizens, and the amount of the individual subsidy for the purchase of a bicycle is 12,000 dinars per natural person. During the last year, a public call for the participation of business entities in the implementation of the measure of energy renovation of family houses through the installation of solar panels was implemented, and in February 2023, a new public call was announced. In addition, all the necessary documentation for the construction of the Regional Center for Waste Management was completed last year. It passed all the necessary verifications by the authorities and was also positively evaluated by the expert commission of the European Union. Currently, work is being done on the design and technical documentation for the arrangement of a new park unit along Bulevar Cara Lazara, on an area of 1.1 ha. Also, the development of technical documentation for the University Park, on an area of 5.2 ha, is in progress, for which the funds are provided partly from the Ministry of Trade, Tourism, and Telecommunications and partly from the city treasury. I would also like to highlight the construction project of the Botanical Garden in Petrovaradin, on an area of 4.2 ha, for which the design and technical documentation are currently being prepared, as well as one innovative project in the field of greening: a vertical green wall with a length of 440 m and an area of 880 m2, which stretches along the dividing strip in the Narodnog Fronta Street. We are taking big steps towards making Novi Sad the Green Capital of Europe!
By: Gordana Knežević Monašević
Photo: Office of the Mayor of Novi Sad