From: Alice Taylor
Albanian Government Issues Permit for New National Theater before Court Decision on Its Demolition

The National Council of the Territory (KKT) has approved a permit for the construction of the new National Theater, as designed by Bjarke Ingels.

The KKT, which is chaired by Prime Minister Edi Rama, made the decision while the Constitutional Court is mulling a ruling on the legality of the process that led to the demolishing of the old National Theater.

The news was announced by Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj through a Facebook post. He posted several design images along with information on how many seats it will have. In total, between various halls and auditoriums, the new building will seat 1,635 people and will include two floors of parking. Veliaj added there will be “zero towers in the area”.

The project by Ingels was initially commissioned by private company Fusha shpk and included several towerblocks that would be in the vicinity of the Theater. 

In 2018, the government said they could not afford the EUR 30 million needed to build the new theater. They then created a “special law” that would see public land handed over to construction company Fusha shpk for the construction. 

The land includes some of the most sought-after and valuable space in the country.

President Ilir Meta vetoed the law. The EU also criticized it as a violation of free competition, a principle of the Stabilization and Association Agreement between the EU and Albania.

The government then attempted to create a tender and bidding process to select the construction company. The tender was organized in September 2019, but the Municipality didn’t announce a winner for months.

Suddenly, at the end of February 2020, Mayor Veliaj declared that after two months of negotiations with the winning company, the Municipality had decided to stop the negotiations without giving a name as to who it was. On this occasion, he stated that the Municipality would now build the theater on credit.

In May 2020, in an interview with Euronews, Veliaj said that “the value of the new National Theater is estimated to reach about EUR 30 million, which will be provided through loans.”

He said that the loan would be taken from a commercial bank, adding that “17 banks have put forth offers and one will be selected. The repayments will start in 2025.”

Then, in November 2020, Veliaj asked the Assembly to build the theater with money from the state budget, requesting some EUR 36 million from the government for this purpose. 

But in May 2021, in a comment given to the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, the Municipality stated that the work for the construction of the National Theater will start this summer and will be financed by the Abu Dhabi Fund.

Then earlier this week, the Albanian government approved a loan of EUR 7.3 million to the Municipality for “construction of the New National Theater Building.”

This transfer was one of the changes in the 2021 budget, which the government approved via a normative act on 22 June.

It’s unclear which part of the construction phase this money will cover, as no information on the project has been made public. The situation becomes even more confusing due to the frequent change of statements made by the Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj.

This loan contributes to some EUR 1 billion of public debt from this year alone. It will be paid by taxpayers at a time when government debt is already as high as 86% of the GDP.

The Democratic Party has criticized Veliaj’s announcement and the decision of the KKT. Representative Albana Vokshi said it was an example of pressure being exerted on the Constitutional Court while they are in the decision-making process. She added that KKT should not be issuing a decision while the matter is still before the court.