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Czesław Renkiewicz: Undoubtedly, Suwałki deserves to be called a European town

An Interview with Czesław Renkiewicz, Mayor of Suwałki

  • jeudi 20 février 2020 11h30
  • Author Aseniya Dimitrova
Medium czes%c5%82aw renkiewicz
Source: Czesław Renkiewicz / City of Suwałki

Czesław Renkiewicz has been Mayor of Suwalki since 2010. In this conversation, he speaks about the development of his town, the future initiatives, including Rail Baltica project, EU-funds and the 300th-anniversary programme.

Mr Renkiewicz, how would you describe Suwałki? What is special about the town?

Suwałki earned its current position thanks to very long and hard work on many different levels. We have used the myth of a town where white bears roam the streets all year round in the town branding. Yet, the struggle with the image of Suwałki being a backwater town without opportunities for development continues and requires more complex, thoughtful and comprehensive action.

The town has identified its opportunities and strengths, but also areas of high risks and threats to its development. As far as the strengths are concerned, I am referring primarily to the border location and current economic development, especially the wood and furniture industry, which is one of the town's key economic industries.

The town is becoming a more friendly place to live

What is more, the urban policy is not only focused on the creation of traditional, ‘hard’ infrastructure investments, but also investments in the human capital, and speaking directly - in the residents of the town and people who perceive and treat Suwałki as their place of living, working, leisure and personal development.

The town is becoming a friendly place to live - the calendar of cultural events is being expanded with the largest open-air blues festival in Poland, i.e. Suwałki Blues Festival, just like the artistic and recreational offer of the cultural and sports centres.

Today's Suwałki boasts an extensive base for professional sports such as volleyball or football, but also athletics. The fact that we are becoming a role model for others is encouraging, but it is still important to plan and act as quickly as possible to address the current changing socio-economic and political realities.

Finally, I would like to mention the active third sector of the town, i.e. our NGOs - the town supports grassroots activities of the inhabitants, such as the civic budget and social initiatives.

This year Suwałki celebrates its 300th anniversary. Congratulations! What are the key moments of the festive program that are not to be missed?

We shall witness and participate in this honourable anniversary, the 300th anniversary of the granting the town charter to Suwałki. Therefore, we would like to propose events related to this anniversary in addition to the traditional ones held every year in our town.

Our offer is addressed to people who were born in Suwałki, lived in the town in the past, tourists and visitors, as well as to current residents and guests.

According to historical sources, on March 2, 1720, King Augustus II the Strong issued a royal decree granting the town charter to Suwałki. In connection with this date, 300 years later, the 2 March 2020 will also mark the inauguration of the 300th anniversary of the granting of the Magdeburg rights’ charter to Suwałki.

On this day a solemn mass will be celebrated for all those who have contributed to the foundation and development of the town. Afterwards, a solemn session of the Town Council will take place at the Suwałki Cultural Centre, whose program will include a presentation of the historical outline of the town. It will be possible to see a copy of the act of granting the town charter by King Augustus II the Strong.

An exhibition titled: “Suwałki in Medal and Stamp Collections” will be opened. Then we invite the participants of the anniversary and the inhabitants to a panel conference titled: “300 Years of Suwałki”, during which, in addition to the discussions, illustrations from the town's past will be presented.

August – celebrating urban space

Also, in the Suwałki Cultural Centre, there will be concert of the outstanding violinist Prof. Konstanty Andrzej Kulka with the Suwałki Chamber Orchestra, and in the evening, we will be able to enjoy the music played by the U.S. Army Europe Rock Band, formed by soldiers of the American Army, who perform rock songs, pop music and songs from the 1940s.

While the inauguration of the anniversary in March will refer to history, August will be the month of celebrations connected with the urban space. They will be addressed to a wide range of visitors from Poland and abroad, representatives of partner towns and residents of Suwałki. The main event will be the Second World Reunion of Suwałki Inhabitants, to which we cordially invite you today. For the second time, after 19 years, the paths of the past and present residents of the town may cross again.

From 14 to 16 August 2020, events connected with the celebrations of the 300th anniversary of granting the town charter will take place in many places in Suwałki. Local NGOs, municipal institutions, school children and seniors are involved in the organization of these events.

We wish to present our town to the participants as a place friendly to people of all age, social and professional groups. A town full of joy, bustling with life and dynamically developing.  The town centre will become a venue for concerts, we will present it in a colourful parade called: “This Is The Way We Are”.

Together we will discover a new, attractive place - the Boulevards on the Czarna Hańcza. There, we will prepare a time capsule and witness the opening of the exhibition “300 Photos for the 300th Anniversary of Suwałki” and the inauguration of an artistic open-air event.  There will also be presentations by our residents, attractive sports and historical events and fun zones.

In 3 May Constitution Park, we will present an interesting form of celebration with a historical spectacle titled: “The Granting of the Town Charter to Suwałki by King August II the Strong”, the performance will include 18th-century military drills and historical costumes.

The final event of the anniversary day will be the Cabaret Night.

Apart from the main events of the 300th anniversary of Suwałki, a number of events organised by the town's educational institutions and sports units will take place. I invite you to follow the website of the Municipal Office in Suwałki, local portals and media, where details of the celebration of the 300th anniversary of Suwałki will be announced.

This is your third term as a mayor. Could you tell us how the town changed for the past ten years? Which projects and initiatives, in your opinion, contributed the most to the social and economic development of the town?

Suwałki undoubtedly deserves to be called a European town, open to culture, sport and all economic and social projects.

During these years when I have had the honour of serving as Mayor of Suwałki, a lot has happened. Among the most important projects that I managed to bring to a positive conclusion were certainly the construction and opening of the Suwałki ring road, reviving the local economy and attracting large investors to Suwałki. I mean here, for example, the modern chipboard plant of Forte Furniture Factory, as well as the companies that produce for IKEA.

We built 46 housing estate streets with a total length of over 20 km, at a cost of over PLN 50 million. Suwałki obtained a new airstrip and completed the hall of the Suwałki Arena, now a venue of matches of our elite volleyball teams - the Polish PlusLiga.

I have introduced the Suwałki Resident Card programme, which offers a system of discounts and exemptions from public transport charges for children and youth. Municipal kindergartens are free of charge and we have introduced a nursery ticket for parents sending their children to private nurseries.

There have been many activities like these. It would be difficult to name here all.

Could you tell us more about the Rail Baltica project, that will connect Warsaw, Kaunas, Riga, Tallinn and Helsinki?

The Rail Baltica is part of a trans-European corridor that will link Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland. Thanks to the conducted modernization, the line will be adapted to the general railway standards in force in the European Union countries.

Up to the moment the works on the section Sadowne - Czyżew have been completed. At the end of last December, PKP PLK S.A. chose the contractor for the Czyżew-Białystok section, a Polish-Chinese consortium.

At the same time, the design of the Ełk-Białystok section is underway, the physical implementation of which should be completed in this financial perspective, i.e. around 2023.

The entire Rail Baltica line in Poland is expected to be completed in 2026-2027. The Ełk-Suwałki-border section, the reconstructed line will enable the maximum speed of 250 km/h for passenger trains and 120 km/h for freight trains.

Are you looking forward to its realisation?

This investment will be of great benefit not only to travellers but above all to the local economy of the Suwałki subregion. It will contribute to increasing the external transport accessibility of Suwałki and our region, providing fast passenger and freight connections to Warsaw, Białystok, Kaunas and Helsinki.

For entrepreneurs, it will mean completely new possibilities of cooperation with partners from abroad. The transport of goods, which is currently a problem for Suwałki production plants located far from the economic centres, will obtain more efficient and cheaper distribution channels.

The time of the transport revolution is slowly coming to Suwałki:  thanks to huge investments from the state-financed from the EU funds the town will be connected to the network of pan-European transport routes. We already have a town ring road, we are looking forward to the completion of road investments on the S-61 Via Baltica route, which should take place by the end of 2023.

Suwalki – 3 hours ride away from Warsaw

The last missing element of the large line infrastructure in this part of the country is the railways. Although the railway investments are being realized with a considerable delay, I hope that in the perspective of 7 years we will be able to travel under 3 hours by train to Warsaw in comfortable conditions and our entrepreneurs will have unlimited possibilities to transport their goods across the whole of Europe.

Thanks to this investment, our mobility will definitely increase, and the economic and investment attractiveness of the town with it. The railway will become an attractive, ecological alternative to road transport, enabling the reduction of traffic jams and CO2 emissions.

The introduction of the fast railway into the town will not only alter the town’s transport accessibility. The implementation of this project will also mean major changes in urban space. The fast railway in Suwałki will bring the necessity of changing the location of the town railway infrastructure.

The freight station will be removed from the town centre to the place of today's ‘Papiernia’ railway station, which will enable the development of the extremely attractive post-railway area in the town centre for public needs and a radical change in the appearance of this part of Suwałki.

The desolate and degraded railway areas being now a white spot on the town map will become available for future needs of the integrated railway and bus station and for development of housing estates.

Is the fast rail route going to pass through the town of Suwałki and how do the inhabitants accept this?

Suwałki is located inside the corridor of the Rail Baltica route. However, the construction of the high-speed railway is connected with certain technical conditions: specific routing of the line, elimination of railway crossings, construction of viaducts, which will mean a certain interference within the urban space and necessity to buy-out land.

At this point, I can only assure you that the interference in private real-estate is not going to be significant. We know of two companies who will probably have to consider making available some land for the needs of the high-speed railway: one parcel at the station Papiernia and one in the vicinity of the existing railway crossing at Sejneńska Street.

Therefore, the meetings concerning the route of the line in the town did not arouse much controversy among the residents and were held in a relaxed atmosphere.

In November, PLN 26 million were secured for the modernisation of the transport of Suwałki with low-emission buses and the construction of bicycle stations. Can you tell us more about this process and when will it start?

For this purpose, we have obtained nearly PLN 26 million from the European Union and the state budget. The whole project will cost nearly PLN 30 million. Thanks to its implementation, 15 new buses powered by natural gas will be purchased, the town bicycle network and roads will be repaired, electronic information boards will appear at the bus stops and the building of the Municipal Services workshops will be renovated.

We have already announced the first tenders for the purchase of buses. We will soon announce a tender for the delivery of the town bike system. The inhabitants of Suwałki will probably be able to use the bikes in June and the new buses in December.

The Polish Institute of Economics has ranked the town among “the locomotives for the development of local market”.  How did you achieve such success?

The Institute of Economics developed scenarios as part of the report “Small and medium-sized towns development scenarios”. As a consequence, 43% of the urban centres were defined as “locomotives for the development of local markets”, including Suwałki - which I am very happy about.

In 2018 there were 930 urban centres in Poland, including 712 small and 202 medium-sized towns. For the purposes of the PIE reports, 205 small urban centres and 90 medium-sized ones were examined. The group of 39 medium-sized towns which scored highest were called “locomotives for the development of local markets”.

The latter have a strong position in the region, a good economic situation and favourable indicators of economic activity and social situation. These towns are perceived as open, attractive, as well as friendly to residents and businesses, allowing an optimistic perspective for the future.

The towns are primarily characterised by a good economic situation, as evidenced by the highest average income per capita and a high share of their own income per capita in the total income of the municipality. The economic situation is similarly favourable.

This is what Suwałki is like, and our actions are aimed at maintaining and even developing these trends further.

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