St. Pete Draws Up Plans For $8M Japanese Center

ST. PETERSBURG -- City Hall officials said they hope soon to secure funding from Japan to construct a lavish $8 million Japanese center with hotels, restaurants and a business center in downtown St. Petersburg.

Construction of the six-story Japanese center project would begin in February at a site between Bolshaya Konyushennaya Ulitsa and the Moika Embankment and be completed by next summer.

Funding for the site would come out of a $100-million financial aid package Japan pledged to Russia in November 1997. The funds are being disbursed through the Japanese Governmental Fund.

Japan, which supports the project, is expected to give it the green light by December, said Igor Alexandrov, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev's adviser for international affairs.

"They still have not given final consent, but the governor is pushing them," Alexandrov said.

Yakovlev initiated the project April 15, when he ordered several City Hall committees to work alongside the Japanese government in drawing up a plan that would use the promised $100 million to give the city a cultural and commercial boost. So far, the loan has been used on training programs in Japan that prepare Russians for managerial positions in the business sector.

Alexandrov said he will be traveling to Japan next month to negotiate the financing terms for the Japanese House.

Under City Hall's plans, the Japanese center will include two hotels, Japanese restaurants, shops, a business center, a Japanese winter garden, a tourist information center, a center of oriental medicine, a health and fitness complex and a cultural center.

Construction of the new building, with an expected area of 10,020 square meters, will cost $4.9 million, according to the administration's plan. The Japanese garden alone will cost an additional $70,000.

The contractor will be chosen by Japanese officials, Alexandrov said.

The St. Petersburg project is the latest sign that former Cold War enemies Japan and Russia are continuing to build bridges. The two nations have never formally signed a peace treaty ending World War II because of a dispute over the Kuril Islands, which lie north of Japan. The Soviet Union seized four of these islands at the end of the war, but Japan still claims them.

Meanwhile, Tokyo has become a major lender to Moscow and has offered $1.5 billion in untied loans through Japan's Export-Import Bank. Those funds were frozen in August 1998 when Russia devalued the ruble and defaulted on some domestic debt.