St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko unexpectedly announced last week that the city authorities might offer state oil and gas giant Gazprom alternative locations for the company’s controversial Okhta Center skyscraper.
“I believe it is possible that we will offer Gazprom some other sites for the construction of such a large investment project,” Matviyenko said was quoted by Interfax as saying last week.
Matviyenko said no official decision had yet been made about the construction of the 396-meter tall skyscraper, set to house the headquarters of Gazprom Neft, and that the main opposition to the project was its planned location across the Neva from Smolny Cathedral.
“I think we’ll find some compromise that will suit everybody,” she said.
“We have actively discussed the possibility of moving the construction site both with investors and city preservationists, and we already have a number of options for a possible location,” the governor said.
Matviyenko said the site at the confluence of the Okhta and Neva rivers that has been under development by investors remains attractive to them, and in the event that it is decided to relocate construction, investors, including Gazprom itself, may build some other project on the site.
The governor said that the city definitely needs projects such as the Okhta Center.
“However, such projects should take into account the opinion of all St. Petersburg residents. The decision should unite citizens,” she said.
President Dmitry Medvedev said earlier that the decision on the construction of the Okhta Center should be made upon completion of all the legal proceedings regarding the matter and after consultation with UNESCO, which had said that the historic center’s World Heritage status would be jeopardized by the building of a skyscraper in such close proximity.
The controversial planned Okhta Tower has encountered fierce opposition from protesters who say it will violate the city’s historic skyline. Opponents have staged meetings protesting the project and attempted to convince City Hall to reconsider the building’s location or its height.
Okhta Center’s press service said that the project was developed for the plot of land on the Okhta River, and that the investor is in constant contact with City Hall.
“At the stage of the project’s development, we considered various options for the location of the center, and the investor and the city administration maintain a constant dialogue about the matter,” Interfax reported the center’s press service as saying.
Maxim Reznik, leader of the city’s branch of the Yabloko political party that has opposed the location since the project’s beginning, welcomed Matviyenko’s comments about the possibility of finding another site for the construction of the so-called Gazprom tower.
Reznik said that the position of the governor was a result of long-term efforts on the part of the city’s preservationists and the dialogue that Matviyenko recently entered with the city’s town planning council, Yabloko said via its press service.
“Back in 2006, Yabloko proposed constructing the business center to the south of Dunaisky Prospekt, next to the ring road, which would make it easily accessible from any district of the city and from the airport. I’m sure our colleagues in the negotiation process will offer other options as well, especially where there is no need to disfigure something created by previous generations for the purpose of making something new,” Reznik said.
Architect Boris Nikolashchenko advised Gazprom back in 2005 to consider a site near Utkina Zavod on the southeastern outskirts of the city, according to the press club Zelyonaya Lampa, which is part of the RosBalt news agency.
The 60-billion-ruble Okhta Center is due to be completed in 2016.
Governor Matviyenko announced this partial sea change on December 2, 2010, during “Dialogue with the City,” broadcast on Petersburg Channel 5:
Here is a translation of her remarks:
Above all, I want to note both to backers and opponents of this project that the city has made no official decisions about the beginning of construction. And I’m glad that there is such an active discussion around this project. And the absolute number [sic] of [Petersburgers] — I’m sure of this — understand that the city needs new architectural projects. It needs projects that will attract investors, that will bring major companies [to the city], because the city needs enormous financial resources for preservation of the historic center, for development. On this point I think there is no controversy.
As for the project itself, most people who are really familiar with it note that the project is quite interesting. The controversy concerns [the proposed construction site], on the far side of Bolsheokhtinsky Bridge. Here, I think, we do have something to talk about with [Petersburgers], something to discuss together.
We don’t intend to force this issue: we are studying public opinion. And I assume that we’ll propose other possible variants for building such a major, interesting, huge investment project. And we’re continuing this work with Gazprom.
In December, as we’ve already agreed, we’ll be meeting with preservationists. I ask them to think about it — perhaps they have proposals for where we might build the business center, and public center, and cultural center. Let us give it some thought together again, talk it out and return to this topic. The discussion continues, but we need to lower the intensity of passions. I think that in our city, which we all love, we’ll find a consensus decision that suits all [Petersburgers].
The only true path is dialogue with the public, with preservationists, with cultural figures, and the search for a solution to this issue. We are disposed precisely to such a path.
For a concise history and analysis of the Okta Center project, see “The Gazprom Tower: Everything Changes for the Better,” in the recent Whose City Is This? edition of our newspaper.
Our heartfelt congratulations to everyone who has fought this monstrosity (even if this “stunning reversal” just turns out to be a lousy trick).