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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Stadium Beats Homes in St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG -- In the face of strong public opposition and protests from local lawmakers, St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko has dropped plans to build an elite residential complex on the site of the Kirov Stadium on Krestovsky Island.

The dilapidated stadium was slated for demolition, but City Hall decided last week to build a new stadium on the site instead. Construction will be partly financed by Gazprom, the state-controlled gas monopoly.

"We have finished the first round of negotiations with Gazprom, which is among the investors, and we now are discussing what they will get in return," Matviyenko said Nov. 23, Interfax reported. "We will make a final decision by the end of this year."

The new stadium will take at least three years to build and cost $92 million to $197 million, she said.

Among the investors who had expressed interest in the housing project was Interros, the financial-industrial empire controlled by Vladimir Potanin, but Matviyenko said Tuesday that she had deemed their proposal "quite unacceptable."

"We will continue negotiating with them about the possibility of changing their concept," she said.

Gazprom showed interest in helping bankroll the new stadium when plans to build one were announced a few months ago. The new 50,000-seat stadium was to be built on Prospekt Blukhera in the Kalininsky district.

Last summer, developer Fifth Element, which is controlled by Interros, got permission from City Hall to build a $150 million to $170 million elite housing complex on the site of the Kirov Stadium. The developer is already building several residential buildings near the stadium and the adjacent Victory Park.

St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly deputies denounced the stadium's demolition and have kept up a steady stream of criticism ever since. Residents also rallied in opposition to the stadium plan and criticized the new apartment buildings' proximity to Victory Park.

"The stadium and park have been under attack for some time," Deputy Arkady Kramarev complained to Matviyenko in a letter last month.

But the plan is still going forward "despite public protests over the apartments that Fifth Element has built in what is supposed to be a water catchment reserve in the park. And what about the stadium? Who says it should be demolished?" Kramarev wrote.

Alexei Kovalyov, a member of the liberal Union of Right Forces faction in the Legislative Assembly who closely oversees construction projects in green areas, said Victory Park is being destroyed. Seven construction projects are in various stages of completion in or near the park, which is supposed to be a public recreation area but is being built on because its borders have not been fixed by local legislation, Kovalyov said.

"This territory is not protected as a historic or cultural area," he said. "Small pieces of the park keep being cut off and used by construction companies."

Legislation to protect parks, which include amendments describing the boundaries of Victory Park and prohibiting construction in the area has been passed in two of three readings in the Legislative Assembly.

In announcing the new stadium plan, Matviyenko promised that Victory Park will remain a recreation zone.

Her record on green areas, however, is not strong. Last winter she vetoed legislation protecting green areas that had been passed by the assembly.

"Matviyenko can say one thing yesterday, another today and something else tomorrow, but the reality is that we don't have any guarantees," Kovalyov said. "If she supports the legislation, that would be different. She knows quite well it is enough for her to give an order and everything will be passed."

Vladimir Yeryomenko, a member of the pro-Kremlin United Russia faction, which holds a majority in the assembly, said he would support a ban on construction in green areas if a bill is brought to a vote. "We have quite enough precedents of construction companies trying to get into business in, for example, the Mikhailovsky Gardens," Yeryomenko said. "There are enough other places in the city for such construction. Developers shouldn't get into parks and gardens. That prevents citizens from having the opportunity to walk around.

"It's just wild capitalism when they fence off whole lakes and build cottages, cutting people off from recreation areas," he said.