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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Federation Council Looks Over Comecon Site

MTThe council is considering a move to the former Comecon headquarters on Novy Arbat.
The Federation Council is house hunting.

Speaker Sergei Mironov has said the council's building on Bolshaya Dmitrovka is too cramped and forces each senator to share a 13-square-meter office, on average, with his or her assistants.

"It is not possible to work normally under such conditions," Mironov said earlier this month. "We need space for our new committees and commissions."

Unlike their predecessors -- regional governors and parliamentary speakers who made fleeting visits to the capital -- the 177 appointees to the reconfigured upper house of parliament work in Moscow full time and require additional space.

Mironov said a decision on a future home for the council would be made in the next few weeks, but it is unlikely any new space would be ready for a year to 1 1/2 years, Itar-Tass reported.

First Deputy Moscow Mayor Oleg Tolkachyov said Friday a site would be chosen by March 10.

One likely choice is the former Comecon headquarters at 36 Novy Arbat. The 30-story building was constructed in 1969 to house the Soviet bloc's Council for Mutual Economic Assistance. The high-rise stands next to the White House, which houses the government, and offers a good view of the Moscow River.

If the Federation Council wants to move in, it might have to bargain with the Moscow city government. In 1991, President Boris Yeltsin handed over the Comecon building -- along with the adjacent Mir hotel -- to the city government.

"Moscow has also invested quite a lot of money in the building," said Sergei Benediktov, general director of city-owned OAO Moskva-Kurs and an expert on division between federal and municipal property. "If it is taken away from City Hall then there should be compensation for the expenditure and for the losses in rents."

However, a spokeswoman for the Property Ministry said the complex remains federal property, adding that Yeltsin only gave City Hall the right to use the space. Nevertheless, she added that the agreement allocating the space to the Moscow city government could only be changed by the federal government.

The presidential property department has asked City Hall to vacate the Mir hotel.

Tolkachyov has said the Comecon building is not suitable for the senators, Interfax reported.

"It's too technically outdated for a solid organ such as the Federation Council," he said. "If it's really necessary to move into something new, then they should be looking at building that would serve them for the next 40 to 60 years."

Benediktov agreed. "The rooms are small and outdated," he said last week in a telephone interview. "Something needs to be done -- a capital reconstruction."

No comment was available from City Hall, but Komosmolskaya Pravda quoted an unnamed expert as saying that renovations would cost $25 million.

Mironov's spokeswoman, Lyudmila Fomicheva, said in a telephone interview that if an agreement is not reached with City Hall, the Federation Council does not intend to seize the building.

"The Federation Council will act only in accordance with the law," she said, adding that the future of the building would be discussed by Mironov and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

The two men discussed a site for the Federation Council earlier this month, but the Comecon building was not included in the talks, Interfax reported.

Fomicheva said a special commission is studying five or six possible relocation sites, but she declined to name them. One of them is the Comecon building, but none are in St. Petersburg, she said, referring to persistent rumors that parliament is moving to the northern capital.

Deputy Mayor Iosif Ordzhonikidze said Wednesday at a news conference that the Federation Council was considering moving to Moskva-City or to a site on Kutuzovsky Prospekt that Swedish furniture retailer IKEA has been eyeing for its third Moscow store.

He added: "I don't see why [the site] should go to IKEA."

IKEA Russia chief Lennart Dahlgren said Wednesday in a telephone interview that the company was moving ahead with plans for the site and has the verbal approval of Luzhkov to use it.

The Federation Council's new building would have to cover at least 200,000 square meters and would cost $200 million to $250 million, with financing coming from investment backed by the current building or federal budget funds, Interfax reported.

Complicating the issue, City Hall intends to shift most of its bureaucrats to a "government quarter" in the Moskva-City project. It intends to pay for the new buildings by renting out the office space vacated in the move.

The Property Ministry spokeswoman said in a telephone interview that if space in the former Comecon building is rented to organizations that are not part of the city administration, then "in principle," it should be done only with the agreement of the ministry and the rent should go to the federal budget.