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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Warsaw Hoping for Surge in Building

WARSAW -- Poland's capital Warsaw, destroyed by Hitler and rebuilt under Stalin, is offering the gaping urban spaces left by both periods of its tragic history as the prizes in a commercial building boom.

Warsaw hopes to lure foreign investors with city-center green-field sites for brand-new development -- beating beautiful Prague and Budapest to become the region's business center.

New construction also offers a chance to transform areas which, even the proudest citizens admit, badly need a makeover.

"We will be the local metropolis for Central and Eastern Europe. I am convinced of this," Warsaw city's President Marcin Swiecicki said in an interview.

German invaders crushed Warsaw's heroic 1944 uprising in World War II and deliberately levelled the city to rubble. The whole country, under Soviet-imposed communism, made huge sacrifices to rebuild its capital after the war.

One long swathe, including the beautiful Old City district and the palace-studded Lazienki Park, were lovingly recreated.

But dictator Josef Stalin stamped a vast copy of Moscow's weirdest high-rise buildings, the Workers' Palace of Culture, as a symbol of Soviet domination in the very center.

This useful but unlovely 242-meter "Stalin Gothic" tower remains the leading landmark, visible far outside town.

The communists left a stark, empty expanse around it to hold their parades and dwarf the individual -- this heart of Warsaw is a now a sea of tawdry market stalls and car parks.

In other central areas, vacant lots adjoin relentless rows of stained concrete blocks that hide amid an ocean of trees in summer, but emerge in full bleakness in winter.

"Hitler and Socialism are the main authors of Warsaw's current appearance, but the fact remains that Warsaw is the ugliest capital I know," wrote humorist Jacek Federowicz in a newspaper column last year, as his artist wife urged him to move to the gracious former royal seat, Krakow.

Poland now hopes an influx of foreign money will transform Warsaw, celebrating its 400th anniversary as capital this year.

The country has an economy projected to grow at 5.5 percent this year, and Swiecicki said Warsaw's new airport has excellent links worldwide.

Already several bright new developments tower over the gray boxes left from decades of communist rule that ended in 1989.

Next in line is a 40-hectare area adjoining the central parade square, being prepared for tenders by the Dutch company ING Real Estate, the Samsung Group of South Korea and a Polish group.

Two Brussels-based Polish architects won a contest in 1992 for plans to develop the parade square itself, and are working out studies on preparing infrastructure.

Under this longer-term scheme, the Palace of Culture would radiate roads leading to 30 plots of various shapes, offering 300,000 square meters to 900,000 square meters of usable space.

New development offers a chance to continue rebuilding old Warsaw. Work has started to recreate the historic, palatial pre-war city hall and to house modern offices for two banks.

There are also plans, involving Belgian interests, to rebuild the Saski Palace on what is now a large square by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Old City, Swiecicki said.

He said development would be greatly helped if Poland passed a law on restitution for property taken over by communist authorities after the war.