The New Old Market Hall in Bratislava

By Kamila Gejdošová, on August 16th, 2017

> Read Kamila Gejdošová's articles

In the last ten years the attitude of cities and their citizens towards what is possible and what can be achieved through cooperation with each other has changed. Active citizen organisations, NGOs and different initiatives have shown that they are capable to contribute to urban development with their own activities and deliver what they set out to. Therefore they are a worthy partner to the municipality. It is all about mutual trust and the knowledge of your own limits but also the limits of your partner. As a proof, there are several good examples, which one may consider as “success stories”. This is applicable to many municipalities in the country – NGOs and municipal cooperation in Slovakia is on the rise, be it in smaller towns or larger cities. I want to share one specific initiative which resides in Bratislava, the Capital of Slovakia, not because I think it has been done the best way (even if it is possible), but because I have lived in the city for a while now and have experienced the changes first-hand.

The initiative is physically manifested in a concrete location in the city structure of Bratislava’s city centre.  The case presented has had a significant impact on its surroundings and on the debate what to do with some well historically known but now unused properties in Bratislava.

Potravinove trhy (8)As in any other cities and towns, there are several markets and market halls in Bratislava. But only one of them is called the Old Market Hall (Stará tržnica). The building is situated at the edge of the old city core, on SNP square, a place well known for its importance during the Velvet revolution in 1989. The Old Market Hall building was constructed in the early 20th Century as a – for its time – modern building generously using concrete, steel and glass. It fulfilled its market function until the 1960s when under the socialist regime it became a TV studio and storage place for the Slovak National Television. But 20 years later the TV studios moved to a new location and that was the start of the end for the building (or so it seemed for a long time). After the political changes in 1989 the City once again became the owner of the Old Marked Hall. The City decided about a much needed restoration of the building and the municipality tried to integrate it back to city life. There were several attempts to do so: firstly, it was rented to a private investor who committed himself to invest a significant sum and use the building mainly for cultural events. But the investor failed to fulfil his plan and the City had to withdraw from the contract. Later, the City with the help of a loan invested into physical restoration of the building and decided to leave the building management to another party via a business contract. A fixed annual contract turned out to be a wrong approach as the contractor had minimal motivation to set a vital business plan and in the end his performance did not meet the City’s expectations. So in the early 2000s the City did manage to bring the buildings’ market function back but only with limited success and only for a couple of years. Afterwards, it was once again used only for special events and TV shows.

The Old Market Hall celebrated its 100th year of existence silently, unused and closed.

That was the moment when the City was forced to rethink the utilisation of the building once again. Beside the municipality and possible private investors also several citizen initiatives started to get involved. All of them formulated their own proposals towards a better future for the building. Everyone had its own different opinion on what the place should be – even the City Council members. Should the City run the place by itself or would a long term lease be a better option? And what should it become? A market, as it was before? A Kunsthalle? Something completely different?

5It was an initiative of professionals from different areas provided an answer to these questions. Aliancia Stará tržnica o. z., a civic association,  was created for the sole purpose to revitalise the Old Market Hall in Bratislava and transform it into a modern urban centre offering various types of services, cultural and social events and regular food markets. This option was presented to the City Council in autumn 2012. The project also included a plan for a technical refurbishment without financial requests to the City of Bratislava. During the project preparation the Aliancia members together with other individuals and organisations have approached many organisations, ambassadors and donors in order to collaborate, attended meetings with potential organisers, partners, deputies of the City Council and other stakeholders. As a result the Aliancia has succeeded in a strong civic, financial (mostly from important business companies located in Bratislava) and political support (from Lord Mayor of Bratislava, Mayor of Bratislava Old Town district and President of the Bratislava Self-governing Region). A robust partnership had been established even before the crucial Council meeting in which the project was approved.

Now, after five years of the projects existence I asked Ms Denisa Chylová, one of the founders of Aliancia Stará tržnica, to share some of her experience. Ms Chylová has a degree in Arts, Entertainment and Media Management. During her studies she co-founded a non-profit organisation called Mladý pes n. o.  (Engl. transl.: Young Dog n. o.) with main goal to present young creatives and their work. Today she is the marketing and social media manager, copyrighter and project coordinator of Aliancia Stará tržnica o. z..

K.G.: What was the impulse for creating the civic association Aliancia Stará tržnica o. z.?
D.CH.: The idea came naturally, spontaneously. We were just a group of people who daily passed a large, historic building in the very centre of the city, but it was inaccessible to the public for the most of the year.

K.G.: How did you and the other members of the Alianica meet?
D.CH.: Most members of the Aliancia had previously worked together on other projects or have known each other from the community, so this association was created quite naturally.

K.G.: And how did you prepare the project?
D.CH.: Firstly all members of the Alliance have taken responsibility for a specific project part according to their profession and field of expertise. Then we conducted a survey, we organised various discussions, gathered information and evaluated them. It has resulted in the project of revitalisation of the Old Market Hall as a city centre for markets and culture.

K.G.: Did you have any previous experience with other similar projects that were realised in cooperation with the municipality?
D.CH.: Aliancia Stará tržnica has originally emerged as a group of experts from different areas with ambition to cover all project sections professionally. Naturally, there were also those among us who had experience with co-operation with the municipality (e.g. Zora Jaurová, Matúš Valo).

K.G.: How did the initial communication between you and the municipality look like?
D.CH.: Of course, it took  time to gain a trust. It has costed us a lot of energy and persuasion. Ultimately, however, we have always believed that it must turn out well. And thus, we were not surprised but are still delighted, that after three years of our presence in the Old Market Hall, we have managed to convince also the non-believers that we are a competent partner who can successfully manage the project.

K.G.: And how is cooperation between Bratislava and your association nowadays?
D.CH.: The cooperation is of course very active. The city approves and controls all the investment that goes into the building. We are also in permanent discussion with the municipality regarding new possibilities. The Old Market Hall is, as any other building, linked with its surroundings and we are trying to help also with the management of the neighbourhood and we actively communicate it and cooperate with the City.

K.G.: Are you in close contact with other initiatives that exist in Bratislava?
D.CH.: Of course, we regularly monitor, cooperate or exchange experiences with other associations and initiatives, for example Milan Šimeček Foundation, Dobrý trh (Engl. transl.: Good Market), Slow Food Pressburg or others.

K.G.: Do you think that the City of Bratislava is opened to such type of initiatives?
D.CH.: It is not easy, it is not even natural for the local government, but I think we have shown that it is possible and we can inspire other activities like this.

K.G.: What would you recommend to other municipalities in Slovakia and beyond, on how to approach such kind of initiatives? What do you think is a condition for sustainability (long-term functionality) of such projects in the city?
D.CH.: If the a local government does not have enough resources to manage its own buildings it is always better to entrust them with civil society experts than let them decay or sell them to a developer. It is always possible to set the terms and conditions in such a way that the result can be monitored and controlled.
Sustainability can be assessed from a variety of perspectives. In this it is important to use experts’ recommendations – with each project the criteria for sustainability are different, the important part is to set up the parameters correctly.

K.G.: How do you evaluate the project now, after several years? Has it met your expectations? Have you experienced some unpredictable moments that have influenced the direction of your project? Is there something you would do differently today?
D.CH.: There were many unpredictable moments, and constantly new problems and opportunities emerge that we need to adapt to. But with that said we expect that each project is and must be a living organism and it is up to us how we react and adapt.

K.G.: And my final questions to you: What do you love the most on the Old Market Hall? What do you enjoy most about your work within this project, what would you like to happen in the future?
D.CH.: Definitely the community of the people around you and the fact that many people come back here. I am delighted that the markets have returned here, and the fact that there are many interesting cultural events. One does not get bored and there is always something new to experience.

K.G.: Thank you very much for this interview and good luck with your work!

4In a very short time the Old market hall has come a long way. It is now the place where you can meet your friends every Saturday at the TRH-PIAC-MARKT – a food market that offers seasonal products grown and produced by local farmers and small producers in the neighbourhood of Bratislava, as well as specialities from foreign countries. All this accompanied by second-hand markets – clothes and accessories, books, antiquities or a special market for bikes and bike-equipment.

Among other services it houses also a café called Dobre&Dobré which provides work for people who have lost their home at some point. By visiting this establishment you will not only enjoy excellent coffee or other drinks and snacks, but you will also support homeless people in their return to normal life.

The Old Market Hall is also the place were community events are being organised – such as the regular event Nedeľná Paráda that introduces each time a different minority living in Slovakia. The most recent one was dedicated to the World Refugee Day by organising an Umbrella March.

And the latest update on their activities: Aliancia Stará Tržnica together with Volkswagen Slovakia and other partners has launched the project up! City, the first car sharing service in Slovakia!

Cover picture by Michal Babinčák

The square in front of the Old Market Hall is now frequently used for open air events, such as the very popular Street Food Park

Photo 2 and 3 by Michal Babinčák

The Old Market Hall today combines traditional market function with various types of services and cultural and social events

Leave a Reply