Retail Center Lifts Soviet Statue

City Hall has decided to turn the square in front of the All-Russia Exhibition Center, formerly VDNKh, into a giant retail and exhibition center by 2005.

The stainless-steel sculpture "The Worker and the Collective Farm Girl" that now dominates the square will be placed on the center's roof.

Alexander Kuzmin, chairman of Moscow's architecture committee, said City Hall intends to restore the statue, which is now in a precarious condition, and then elevate it to the position in which it was originally intended to be displayed.

Architect Vera Mukhina created the sculpture for the 1937 International Exhibition in Paris, where it was placed on the roof of the Soviet pavilion. The structure, designed to symbolize social harmony between peasants and urban workers, was considered by many critics to be the exhibition's tour de force.

"It's assumed the statue should be looked up at," Kuzmin said.

The owners of a neighboring underground parking garage are to finance the retail and exhibition center project.

City Hall has accepted the project leaders' proposal to recreate the Paris exhibition's pavilion and place the statue on its roof at a height of 35 meters. The pavilion will adjoin a shopping and exhibition center built in the shape of a horseshoe.

The multipurpose complex Ч combining shopping, entertainment and exhibition facilities Ч will cover 60,000 square meters, said Natalya Sergeyeva, head of the culture department for the Sheremetyevsky district. Sergeyeva estimated the project's cost "very approximately" at $20 million. To compare, Ramenka spent $34 million building the Ramstore on Kuntsev Ploshchad on a plot of 20,000 square meters and $45 million building a store at Marinaya Roshcha on a plot of 32,500 square meters.

City Hall accepted bids for the retail and exhibition center and selected Multilevel Underground Garage, an eight-floor underground garage for 2,000 cars located next to the monument. The right half of the horseshoe will stand on the roof of the garage.

Multilevel will organize the project and the initial licensing documentation. At the moment, a study of the sculpture's current condition has been requested in order to determine the necessary amount of restoration. It's possible that City Hall will help finance the project if the cost is very high, Sergeyeva said.

The garage's directors have not yet commented on their participation in the project. It remains unclear how the company will finance the venture. However, the decree mentions the possibility of attracting other investors. Another investor could be MFK Norteks, whose founders are also the founders of MPAS.

The garage's owners are listed in the Moscow registrar chamber as 100 private individuals.

The sculpture "The Worker and the Collective Farm Girl" was in the news three years ago when it was the center of an unusual public relations exercise. The United Wholesale Warehouse Monolit clothed the figures of the worker and farm girl in dresses approximately 540 times their original size.

At first, the idea went over badly in official circles. Some laughed and others were outraged.

However, Monolit made an ally out of the city's landmark preservation directorate and included as one of the project's underlying goals the attraction of public attention to the sculpture's sad condition and how the government's attitude toward it had changed.

The Mosfilm movie studio, which uses the traditional image of a worker and collective farmer as its symbol, sponsored a concert at the base of the sculpture.

The advertising stunt cost about $50,000, said Andrei Dmitriyev, who previously worked in Monolit's sales department.

The money was worth it, marketing specialists said at the time.

In one day, Monolit became known throughout Russia when national television channels broadcast reports on the event.