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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Former Leningrad Mayor Fights City Decision to Rent Out Neva

A unique project to start renting out real estate space on the surface of the Neva River has picked up a powerful enemy in St. Petersburg's Legislative Assembly.

The French company River Espace has been working on the project in St. Petersburg for more than five years and says it is prepared to invest $60 million into six Neva River floats -- platforms that will house low-rise hotels, restaurants, office centers, shops and exhibition halls.

Most of the floats would not exceed the height of the granite parapet of the embankment to which they would be attached. The city would rent the quay-side berths to River Espace with 10-year leases, generating about $900,000 annually for the city in rents and even more in taxes. River Espace, in turn, would sublet space on the platforms to businesses.

But Alexander Shchelkanov, a local lawmaker and former Leningrad mayor, has announced that he wants to hold public hearings at the Legislative Assembly on the proposal.

Because the floats would alter the appearance of the historic Neva River skyline -- one would be docked immediately in front of the Winter Palace, which forms part of the Hermitage Museum -- Shchelkanov said he feels the project has too much cultural and historical significance to be approved simply on the say-so of the governor's office. Not only must the legislature sign off, Shchelkanov insists, but also the Russian Ministry of Culture.

"The project interferes in the look of the city and principally changes it. It should be discussed by the population," Shchelkanov said in an interview. "I want to know how the waste produced at these floats will be removed. I am interested in what will happen with the money earned by the project -- how much will the city be getting? Who else will be getting how much? What will the residents of the city get out of this project?"

The River Espace project was approved last summer by the governor's Committee for the State Inspection and Protection of Monuments, after much debate over whether it would damage the special historical look of St. Petersburg.

The chief architect of the Hermitage, Vladimir Lukin, weighed in favor of the floats, arguing that a modern-looking River Espace platform would look better before the Hermitage than the existing shabby dock that serves local tourist boats.

None of which moves Shchelkanov. In addition to questioning the architectural merits of the floats, he says that under local law, investment projects of such magnitude must be approved by the legislature." Such [large investment] projects should pass the assembly," he said. "Otherwise someone may propose, say, to invest millions of private dollars to bury radioactive waste in our Summer Gardens."

The floats are tentatively supposed to start appearing in 1999, once the governor's committee on monuments has finalized its drafts, and building of them begins in Poland, France and Germany.

The objects, some of which will be more than 100 meters long, will be pulled to St. Petersburg by sea. All of them will have restaurants and bars.

The first float, to be moored near the Hermitage, will house exhibition and concert halls, catwalk galleries, souvenir shops, restaurants and a conference hall.

Other floats will eventually follow, appearing up and down the Neva, including a float with a four- or five-star 210-room hotel at Petrovskaya Embankment.