Resolution in Sight for Landmarks Dispute

MTThe city will hold on to the Manezh exhibition hall, once the tsars' stables.
A 15-year turf war between federal and city authorities will finally be resolved by year's end, First Deputy Mayor Yury Roslyak said Wednesday.

City Hall and the White House locked horns over more than 1,000 historical landmarks in Moscow — including City Hall itself — after the collapse of the Soviet Union. At stake are office buildings, department stores, theaters, monuments and even graves.

Last week the two sides reached a compromise: 544 landmarks will become federal property, while the city assumes ownership of 519. Twenty-nine properties remain in dispute, while 19 parks and gardens must be divided in accordance with the Land and Water codes, Roslyak said.

"Everyone wants to know, who won? The landmarks have won," Roslyak said.

Roslyak said many of the landmarks had fallen into disrepair during the ownership dispute because no one was responsible for maintaining them.

Preservationist Alexei Klimenko disagrees. Klimenko said resolving the ownership battle could open the way to the sort of aggressive remodeling and even new construction that often passes for restoration in Moscow.

"Uncertainty about the ownership [of these sites] helped to restrain the appetites of [developers] who display a total disregard for our cultural heritage," Klimenko said.

As an example, Klimenko mentioned the 19th-century Sredniye Torgoviye Ryady, or Middle Shopping Arcade, located a stone's throw from the Kremlin. Four of the five buildings that make up the complex are slated for destruction to make way for a business center with underground parking. The redevelopment project got the green light earlier this year after the federal government assumed ownership of the property.

Vladislav Lukyanenko, deputy head of the city's cultural heritage committee, which oversees Moscow's landmarks, said his committee had not approved the redevelopment project.

Under the compromise reached last week, buildings that currently house federal ministries, prosecutors' offices and courts, as well as a number of theaters and museums, will become federal property.

Moscow will hold on to the City Hall building at 13 Tverskaya Ulitsa, the Manezh exhibition center, the GUM, TsUM and Gostiny Dvor shopping centers and the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. The city will also receive the complex of historical buildings at Kolomenskoye and other former noble estates, Roslyak said.

The city will be reimbursed for previous renovation of buildings that are set to become federal property. Federal tenants who are behind on their rent have also agreed to settle up, Roslyak said. The city is owed a total of 128 million rubles ($4.8 million), he said.


Vladimir Filonov / MT
The GUM shopping center, on Red Square, will remain in the city's hands.
As part of the agreement, Moscow will also receive more than 670 residential buildings previously occupied by federal ministries and agencies, and more than 150 preschools, Roslyak said.

Moscow, with its rising birth rate, is experiencing a shortage of preschools, many of which have closed down or rented out their facilities in recent years.

Before the compromise agreement is set in stone, the federal law on preservation of historical monuments must be amended, Roslyak said, adding that a bill to this effect would be submitted to the State Duma in the near future.

The law currently contains a nationwide moratorium on registering the ownership of historical landmarks — or privatizing them — until federal, regional and municipal authorities across the country have resolved their ownership disputes.

The city government is widely criticized for knocking down historical buildings, including those listed as landmarks, and replacing them with newly built replicas or entirely new structures.

Current laws do not provide a powerful deterrent against harming historical landmarks, Lukyanenko of the city's cultural heritage committee said. Most offenders are merely fined or, at most, required to rebuild what they have destroyed.

Lukyanenko said the careless treatment of landmarks could be prevented if Russia modeled its preservation laws on those of other countries, where buildings that are not properly preserved can be seized by the government.