Tbilisi Botanical Garden
National Botanical Garden of Georgia (NBGG), located in the historical part of Tbilisi, stretching on about 100 hectares between the cliffs of Sololaki hill and Narikala Fortress in the north and Tabori ridge in the south, has been in a spotlight since late April after it swapped portion of its land, followed by sale of a separate, adjacent land by the Tbilisi City Hall. Billionaire ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili-affiliated entities have been involved in both of the deals. Opposition UNM party was the first to raise the issue in late April, accusing Ivanishvili of “land grab”. NBGG administration said it gave up 4 hectares of botanical garden’s hilly plot of land, which was not possible to use, in exchange of the same area of land, which, it says, serves better to NBGG’s interests and already has developed infrastructure including irrigation system. This latter plot on Tabori ridge was part of the 10 hectares, which belonged to the botanical garden before being bought by Ivanishvili-affiliated company in 2007, when UNM was in government. Watchdog and preservationist groups have complained that the process of land swap was not transparent, done without prior public knowledge, and also pointed to possible legal problems as the botanical garden has the status of cultural heritage site. NBGG said that the plot of land that was swapped was not in the boundaries within which the botanical garden enjoys with this status. In a separate, but related development the Tbilisi City Hall auctioned on May 3 twenty-nine hectares of land, not part of the botanical garden, located in south from the garden. Ivanishvili-affiliated Georgian Co-Investment Fund was the only bidder, which bought the land for GEL 6.32 million (about USD 2.85 million) for a hotel and recreation infrastructure development. Environmentalist and preservationist groups plan protest rallies to oppose the project. They view it as part of a wider pattern of destroying Tbilisi’s historic setting by large-scale infrastructure projects, among them controversial Panorama Tbilisi, which Ivanishvili-affiliated investment fund is planning to develop on Sololaki hill, close to ex-PM’s private residence, overlooking the botanical garden.