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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Enshrined in Mystery, Cathedral Work Starts

Without committed funding, let alone a budget, city workers have started clearing the construction site for the reconstruction of Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior, torn down as part of Stalin's plans for the reconstruction of the Soviet capital.


A city construction firm is putting up a fence around the Moskva year-round open-air swimming pool on the site of the church, demolished to make room for a Stalinist palace that was never built.


City architect Igor Pokrovsky said construction of the new church should start before the end of this year.


But it is not at all clear how much the project will cost or who will pay for it.


Igor Ptichnikov, executive director of a charity fund set up to pay for part of the construction, said the new cathedral would cost "at least $300 million." He predicted that private banks and other sponsors would provide over 60 percent of this sum. Although accounts for donations opened only last week, he said several banks including Most, Stolichny and Menatep had already promised funds.


A spokeswoman for Most Bank denied that the bank had made any commitments; other banks could not be reached for comment.


When asked how much city money had been allocated for the project, Pokrovsky merely said: "Enough."


He refused to elaborate, referring queries to Dmitry Dubrovsky, an aide to Mayor Yury Luzhkov's chief of staff. Dubrovsky's response was: "Time will tell."


Similar vagueness and secrecy surround a number of major construction projects in Moscow that have been criticized widely for being too grandiose.


Luzhkov, who has vowed to give the city a major facelift by 1997, is the driving force behind most of these schemes.


Outside the Kremlin, construction workers have dug a massive hole that should become a six-story underground shopping mall. Like their colleagues at the pool, they have no real budget.


The city allocated $15 million in city funds for the project, but the official in charge said he had no idea what the project would cost the city taxpayers.


"It will be financed from the budget until we find investors," said Leonid Bibin, a mayoral aide in charge of construction projects in the city center: "So far we have enough money."


But similar projects have been abandoned through lack of funds, after using up sizeable quantities of public money.


Near the White House, the City project was billed as the home to the highest tower in the world and a monorail to Sheremetyevo airport. But the project has not moved for lack of investors.


A plan for a giant business center on Gagarin Square failed as well, after eating up $20 million in planning costs.


Western real estate and construction executives said the mall and the church stand little chance of doing better.


"Most Western investors would certainly be reluctant to get involved in anything in which they would not have a controlling interest," said George Froud, a property agent of Ferguson Hollis real estate firm.