Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cash-Drained City Unveils Huge Stadium Plan

Dynamic Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov unveiled his latest massive construction project this week -- a brand new multimillion-dollar stadium for Russian soccer champion Spartak.

But after Luzhkov last year splurged $200 million renovating the Luzhniki stadium and another several hundred million on Moscow's 850th birthday celebrations, there were concerns that City Hall's coffers would not stand the cost of a new stadium.

Spartak, five-time Russian soccer champion and the country's most strongly supported club, does not have a ground of its own, and the team plays its home games at other clubs' grounds in the capital.

Last week at a City Hall award ceremony to honor Spartak's victory in the Russian league last season, the mayor promised to build the team a new home.

First Deputy Mayor Valery Shantsev offered his assistance in financing the project.

The 40,000-seat stadium would, by conservative estimates, cost about $100 million to complete.

It is to be built near Moscow's Botanical Gardens on a 36.5-hectare site currently occupied by the old Iskra stadium.

Spartak general director Yury Zavarzin, who recently took over the club duties from Larisa Nechayeva, murdered by unknown gunmen at her country home last year, was optimistic that the stadium plan could be realized.

"If everything runs according to schedule, we could begin the construction within eight months," he said. "In this case, it's quite possible that Spartak can move into its long-awaited home stadium by the year 2000."

The Moscow Federation of Trade Unions, which owns the Iskra ground, has agreed to hand over the property to Spartak in exchange for a stake in the club.

"We should finalize the deal with Spartak in the next couple of days," federation chairman Mikhail Nagaitsev said Thursday. "The first step in that process would be to give away the Iskra stadium to the club."

Some, though, said the stadium would cost more to build than Spartak claimed and questioned whether the necessary funds could be found.

"Based on my own experience with the Luzhniki arena, the total price might well be twice as much," said Luzhniki's press attach? Sergei Borisov on Friday. "It's not even a plan yet -- just an initial sketch, therefore it's impossible to predict the final cost right now."

Borisov also questioned the common sense of building yet another soccer arena in Moscow, which already has the brand new Luzhniki stadium.

"The big question is where do they get the money for construction," he said. "Spartak doesn't have it. The club doesn't even have enough funds to keep its own top players from leaving abroad and tries to sell them at every opportunity."

The city government, which helped to finance the Luzhniki stadium reconstruction last year, doesn't have the needed cash either.

"The second phase of that project was to build a roof over Luzhniki arena to make it a dome stadium," Borisov said.

"But after spending hundreds of millions of dollars for its 850th anniversary last fall, Moscow decided to freeze the roof construction, which was about to begin this winter, for an unspecified period of time," he said. "So who is going to finance the Spartak project?"

Nagaitsev said that at the moment the club and his federation are studying several options.

"One way would be the creation of a public fund, which could receive donations from millions of Spartak fans across the country," he said. "If we get just 1 ruble from each fan, that alone can generate a hefty sum."

Another source of cash flow could be help from business mogul Boris Berezovsky, who owns a stake in ORT television.

This month, ORT and Spartak signed a preliminary agreement giving the station exclusive rights to broadcast all Spartak's home games. The Russian press reported that Spartak was offered a huge sum of money if it agreed to the deal.

But such a move goes directly against an earlier $9 million contract under which the Russian Professional Soccer League sold the rights to all top flight games to sports management agency International Management Group.