MOSCOW (AFP) – A vast wasteland close to St Basil’s Cathedral and Red Square that once housed a giant Soviet hotel is set to become a landscaped park, Moscow officials said Tuesday as they revealed details of a 10 billion-ruble ($312 million) regeneration plan.
Hidden behind hoardings, the desolate expanse of bushes, tangled metal and concrete beside the Moscow River housed the Khrushchev-era Rossiya hotel, once Europe’s largest. It was demolished six years ago but ambitious redevelopment plans under former Mayor Yury Luzhkov came to nothing.
Visiting the site while prime minister, Vladimir Putin cast the final vote in 2012, saying it should become a “park zone.”
On Monday, Moscow announced that an international jury had narrowed down a field of landscape architects to six, with the shortlisted candidates set to visit in early July to see the site and come up with detailed plans.
The work itself is set to start in 2014, said chief city architect Sergei Kuznetsov, with the park opening in 2015 or 2016 and around 12 million visitors expected per year.
“I think the lineup is the best pool of finalists you could dream up,” said Kuznetsov at a presentation of the project.
While the Hotel Rossiya was glaringly modernist, Moscow officials said they planned something that would show off five historic churches on the site and lure Muscovites into a part of the city often left to tourists.
“We are building a park for the people,” said city culture chief Sergei Kapkov.
“I think this area should become a kind of gateway to bring in Muscovites, to attract them, because to be honest, we often say this: most of us (Muscovites) don’t often go to Red Square.”
Kapkov, a close ally of billionaire Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, was behind a makeover of iconic Gorky Park, a once-sleazy funfair that now has chic cafes and swarms with trendy young Muscovites.
Jury members praised the initiative to create the park.
“I think the decision and the commitment to make this site a park is an enormous and enlightened decision,” said US landscape architect Martha Schwartz.
“The site is actually kind of amazing: the situation being next to Red Square and the Kremlin but also being on the river and in the historic city,” US landscape architect Ken Smith told AFP. “I think there’s a potential to create something very beautiful.”
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