Conservation News Russian Federation

Opponents fear billion-rouble scheme to “preserve and redevelop” central St Petersburg

Conservationists and planning experts say $2.8bn pilot projects are a threat to historical character of the heart of the city

New Holland, a former naval yard near the Mariinsky Theater, is being turned into a contemporary arts centre by the billionaire Roman Abramovich and his art collector partner Dasha Zhukova

Conservationists who fought attempts by Gazprom, the State-controlled gas giant, to build a skyscraper opposite the Smolny Convent complex in the centre of St Petersburg are now facing another threat to the city’s architectural heritage—government plans to redevelop two historic districts in the city centre.

A resolution passed by the city legislature, signed by the St Petersburg governor Georgy Poltavchenko in November, singles out the neighbourhoods of Konyushennaya and North Kolomna-New Holland for “preservation and development” as part of a “special purpose programme” that is due to start this year and be completed by 2018. The city says that the cost of the redevelopment will be $2.8bn, with $2.2bn coming from the municipal budget and $579m from private investors. Poltavchenko said last summer that overhauling the entire city centre would cost an estimated $129.5bn.

The project is meant to serve as a pilot for the rest of the historical centre of St Petersburg. Konyushennaya lies between the Hermitage and the State Russian Museum. New Holland is a former naval yard near the Mariinsky Theater, which is being turned into a contemporary arts centre by the billionaire Roman Abramovich and his art collector partner Dasha Zhukova.

City officials say the redevelopment will preserve historic buildings (if necessary by rebuilding them). They also want to rehouse people living in communal apartments, which are a throwback to the Soviet era, and create new pedestrian zones.

Tempers flared in early December when Boris Vishnevsky, a member of the city legislature from the opposition Yabloko party, was barred from a meeting of the city government’s cultural heritage preservation committee, where the project was being discussed. Vishnevsky has been trying for months to get details about the plans and their funding.

According to the Regnum news agency, at a meeting in December of the St Petersburg branch of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, Boris Nikolashchenko, a city planner, and other experts expressed fears that the city government’s real agenda is the depopulation and forced gentrification of prestigious central neighbourhoods. They fear that St Petersburg would also lose its architectural character. “Everything will be torn down inside landmark buildings, and only the facades will remain,” Nikolashchenko told the news agency.

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