When Subrata Roy arrived at Skopje Alexander The Great Airport in mid-June, he received a welcome
that included Macedonian Finance Minister Zoran Stavreski and a hostess decked out in Macedonia's traditional dress.
Months of negotiations later, on November 20, the Indian magnate submitted an opulent and ambitious project proposal to the Macedonian government that includes a Dubai-like summer resort complex at the lakeside resort of Ohrid, a popular summer tourist destination.
Roy is chairman of multibillion-dollar Indian business conglomerate Sahara India Pariwar, which is based in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. The project he submitted was partly the work of engineering and design consultants at Atkins, which also designed Dubai’s symbolic trademark hotel, the Burj Al Arab.
“Saharaya Macedonia,” as the project is called, includes three separate resorts stretched over 240 hectares around Lake Ohrid. The biggest of the trio is slated for the nearby village of Ljubanista, where hotels, apartments, and haciendas would host a high-end clientele.
The plan also includes a hotel complex with pools, a mini marina, artificial beach, clubs, and casinos. The windmill-like form features infrastructure floating over Lake Ohrid, much like the (now sinking) artificial Palm Islands in Dubai.
Lake Ohrid as it looked in 1996
Local media reports place the cost of the project at several tens of million of euros.
If plans are completed in the next two years and the necessary permits come through, construction could begin in 2014 and end by 2018.
Located on the shores of Lake Ohrid, the city is one of the oldest human settlements
in Europe and home to St. Pantelemon, an ancient Orthodox monastery.
Although he is described as a billionaire by the media, Indian investor Subrata Roy doesn't appear on the "Forbes" list of billionaires around the world. Reuters
has referred to Sahara India Pariwar as an “unlisted giant whose interests range across finance, housing, media and entertainment.” A household name in India known in part for its sponsorship of the national cricket team, Reuters goes on to chronicle very recent accusations of financial mismanagement against Sahara, including a Supreme Court ruling ordering the payment of billions of dollars for illegalities.
Sahara's is not the only ambitious project to have been launched by the government in recent months. Two weeks ago, the public spoke out
against a newly announced government project to build an airport at Lake Ohrid. Environmental activists and Ohrid residents argued that the proposed plan was political gamesmanship before the upcoming local elections.
Much attention was also focused on a similar case eight years ago when a Portuguese company, Aqua Pura
, expressed interest in building a huge 50 million-euro tourism complex in Prespa, a lake resort not far from Ohrid. Two years ago, the project was canceled.
It's abortive projects like these that suggest it's too early to say whether Ohrid will indeed become Macedonia’s “Dubai."
-- Deana Kjuka