From Socialist Pride to Capitalist Makeover


Even on a cold evening with clouds overhead, visitors to VDNKh are strolling outdoors, making little use of the pavilions at this sprawling park in northern Moscow.

It isn't hard to see why. Outside, there are elegant boulevards, gilded statues, columned porticos and grandiose architecture. Inside the central pavilion called the House of Russian Peoples, there are dirty yellow walls with the texture of papier-mache, three-story stone columns with giant fissures, and empty kiosks with "For Rent" signs. Those kiosks in business are selling matrioshki nesting dolls, photography equipment and Boris Yeltsin face masks.

The Moscow city government wants to overhaul the park, once a shiny display of the Soviet Union's economic sectors and ethnic diversity and now a fairground with rundown buildings. The project is expected to include the restoration of decades-old monuments and pavilions, a complete overhaul of infrastructure and the construction of new exhibition space. Business newspaper RBK Daily has estimated that the total cost will be about $2 billion.

International hotels also are expected to be part of the new formula, although plans for the park are far from transparent, and designers and state bodies refused to confirm that redevelopment will proceed according to the format they have previously publicized.  

The park is giant: 240 hectares or more than eight times the size of the Kremlin territory. Its condition verges on the melodramatic. The park's general director has been quoted saying all of the utilities systems need to be replaced and the redevelopment plan says the park has reached "a point of pre-crisis."

Alexei Mikushko, general director of VVTs GAO, which is the government company operating the park, said the revamp of the once-proud Soviet exhibition grounds will be thorough. "We are planning to tidy up not only all of the buildings and monuments, but also to create a signature location in modern Moscow that Muscovites will definitely fall in love with and that will become a calling card of the capital," Mikushko said, RBK Daily reported.

Currently a joint operation between the Moscow city government and the federal government, the park will turn into a 100-percent city-owned enterprise, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced earlier this year. A spokesman for the company, VVTs GAO, said in October that the federal government was in the process of transferring VVTs GAO's shares to the city government.

VDNKh has a history spanning much of the Soviet era. The first exhibition, which touted the U.S.S.R.'s agricultural achievements, opened on the site in northeastern Moscow in August 1939. The park got the name most familiar to Russians, the Exhibition of National Economic Achievements or VDNKh, in 1958, and in 1963 the federal government began to put more emphasis on space, technology and industrial achievements, according to the park's official website. In 1992, after the Soviet Union's collapse, the park assumed the name All-Russian Exhibition Center, which is typically shortened to VVTs.

The park has giant individual exhibition halls, or pavilions, for former republics of the U.S.S.R. and for general exhibition. Some of the general pavilions have transformed into standalone shopping centers, such as a fur coat store and Pavilion No. 2's mishmash of shoe and camera stores.

Notable monuments include the grandiose entrance gate, the enormous "Friendship of Nations" fountain ringed with golden figures, the sculpture "Worker and Collective Farm Woman" with a man and woman raising a hammer and sickle, and the main pavilion with a giant facade of 12 columns.

The government's redevelopment plan, called Vozrozhdeniye VVTs or VVTs Revival, states that restoration of historical buildings and monuments will be the first stage of redevelopment. The next stage will consist of "the creation of modern infrastructure," including utilities, parking for cars, and transportation within the park. The third stage will consist of "implementing in full the project planning and development concept of the park." According to Vozrozhdeniye's materials, that could include the construction of office centers, conference space and a brand-new exhibition center, as well revamped and newly-built industrial pavilions.

As for retail, the Vozrozhdeniye plan published on the VVTs website has few details, suggesting that a mall or other shopping experience won't be part of the revamp. The plan decries the park's numerous flea markets, street hawkers and "low-quality food vendors." It says the appearance of such retail over the past 20 years is one of the factors bringing VDNKh to a crisis point, along with the physical deterioration of pavilions and park structures.

Vozrozhdeniye says the park should have less retail, calling for "the civilizing of retail and decreasing its volume." That could mean shutting down many of the freestanding food and game kiosks currently dotting the park.

The VVTs spokesman, Nikolai Mikhalev, declined to give specifics of the redevelopment, citing the transfer of VVTs shares from the federal to city government and ongoing project planning. He told Real Estate Quarterly that his office can't comment until "the completion of all procedures" related to the transfer and planning.

Mikhalev also didn't answer questions about whether extensive renderings and planning by Dutch-Russian design consultancy Urbanicity have been changed or are even under consideration any more. Urbanicity didn't return multiple requests by email and telephone for comment.

The project planning on the Vozrozhdeniye website, however, says Dutch designs will be considered as part of the project planning by the Vozrozhdeniye VVTs team. For the first stage of redevelopment, in which historical sites will be restored, "all previously prepared frameworks for the transformation, particularly the Dutch framework made two years ago, will be studied." Vozrozhdeniye then goes on to say the basis for VDNKh's revamp will be the latest one.

Urbanicity's concept envisioned a zone in the park that would combine "fun, shopping and entertainment, work and accommodation".

While the Urbanicity and Vozrozhdeniye plans diverge on retail, both call for hotels in or near the park. The latter says four- and five-star hotels should be situated outside the historical areas of VDNKh. This fall, hotel group Carlson Rezidor announced that it will open two brand-new hotels "on the grounds of" the park: One will be called the Radisson Congress Hotel, Moscow and will boast 400 rooms and a giant conference center, while the other will be Park Inn by Radisson Hotel, Moscow and have 600 rooms. Both are scheduled to open in 2016. Carlson Rezidor said the development company Vozrozhdeniye VVTs will develop both of the hotels.

The Vozrozhdeniye VVTs company is controlled by businessmen Zarakh Iliyev and God Nisanov, who co-own the Ukraina Hotel and the Yevropeisky shopping center near Kievsky Station, Vedomosti has reported.