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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arts and Business Marry in Theater Complex

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A Sukharevskaya Ploshchad site has been chosen for a $20 million to $25 million international theater center named after Anton Chekhov's play "Vishnyovy Sad," or "The Cherry Orchard," scheduled to be completed before the end of 2003.

The Moscow government-supported Vishnyovy Sad Theater Center will draw on domestic and foreign investment for a 110-room hotel, retail areas, a theater and a drama school for foreign students.

The inspiration for the center came from its future artistic director, Alexander Vilkin, a 27-year veteran of the famed Taganka Theater who runs the Vishnyovy Sad theater group and teaches drama at the Shchukin Theater Institute.

Vilkin said he had conceived of the center 20 years ago, but the idea had not gone any further until he mentioned it to Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov. "When I told Luzhkov about it he said: 'It's a shame that you didn't tell us about this years ago,'" Vilkin said.

The city government has already allocated a 2,200-square-meter site on Sukharevskaya Ploshchad for the center, which is to be 60 percent owned by investors and 40 percent by City Hall.

Vilkin said that while he's not offering investors oil or steel and with markets and currencies falling overseas, the Moscow city government's support of the center would prove a drawing card.

"Vishnyovy Sad should be a symbiosis of the state, business and culture," Vilkin said. "I want it to work in such a way that investors not only spend money, but also make money."

The investors are to be selected by a tender, but even though work on the site will begin this year, a date for the tender has not yet been named. Vilkin said 10 local and foreign investors had declared their interest in the project, but he declined to name them.

The working plan is for two stages of development. The first stage would involve the construction of a 10,700-square-meter, five-story building with a 2,700-square-meter hotel, a 2,600-square-meter retail area and a 3,500-square-meter underground parking lot. Two more stories, a 2,900-square-meter theater and more hotel space will be added in the second stage.

Luzhkov has managed to open a cultural venue every fall, Vilkin said, and this gives him confidence Vishnyovy Sad will open on time.

Vilkin said investors will have some say in how the building is used, but he envisages restaurants, offices, shops and perhaps some medical services and a library. He foresees the center being used for plays by local and guest performers, symposiums and even chess tournaments.

He also wants to make the center's programs easily accessible to foreign tourists, who often struggle to navigate Russian-language material, and to provide information about the center's activities on the Internet. He added that he would like to offer translations for foreign theater-lovers during performances.

Vilkin said Chekhov's plays in particular and Russian theater in general were of international significance, but were underutilized and inaccessible to foreigners. Moscow has failed to serve foreign enthusiasts for Russian cultural figures as well as it might, he said.

In addition, many foreign theater students were keen to train in Moscow.

"The Russian theater schools are very high class," he said. However, the accommodation offered to students is substandard, he said, adding that Vishnyovy Sad should solve this problem.

Vilkin said theater centers like Vishnyovy Sad already exist in Europe, and he thought Pacific Rim nations like Japan and the United States might be most interested in the center.

Another theater in the capital, which already has dozens, would not be one too many, he said.

"In culture there can't be any competition," Vilkin said.

Sergei Riabokobylko, partner at Stiles & Riabokobylko, said linking musical or theatrical culture with business activities was a feature of several developments supported by City Hall, that have had varying degrees of success.

He said the Usadba office complex on Voznesensky Pereulok and incomplete Novinsky Bulvar and Riverside Towers were examples. Riabokobylko said the Riverside Towers had been the most successful; in its case revenue-generating offices were built first in the mid-1990s and only now is a musical center being built.

He said finding a developer for the hotel would require special attention. The capital's most successful hotels were built by local firms but managed by Western companies, he added.

Jack Kelleher, managing director at Noble Gibbons/CB Richard Ellis, said a theater on its own would probably need some sort of government subsidies. Foreign investors would need to have a market-driven strategy, which perhaps could be developed by adding a shopping center or cinema to a project such as Vishnyovy Sad, he said.