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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gazprom Skyscraper Debate Heats Up

ST. PETERSBURG -- President and St. Petersburg native Vladimir Putin on Thursday weighed in on the emotional debate over Gazprom's intention to build a skyscraper on the Okhta River across from Smolny Cathedral, a plan that UNESCO has said would spoil the city's historic skyline.

"I am not asserting that this is the best decision, and what's more, I do not want to influence the decisions being made by city authorities," Putin told reporters in Moscow.

"These structures would certainly do no harm to the city. As to where to build them, that decision ... must be made at the municipal level. There's no need to shift these decisions on to me; I have enough problems of my own," he said.

The debate over the plans for Gazprom City heated up on Wednesday, when Francesco Bandarin, head of UNESCO's World Heritage Center, told reporters during a visit to the city that the development "is the most visible problem in St. Petersburg," Reuters reported.

"The project has raised UNESCO concerns, mainly due to its proximity to St. Petersburg's historic center," Bandarin said.

"St. Petersburg is a horizontal city," he said. "An architectural solution that goes against this historic background is unacceptable."

UNESCO lists St. Petersburg as a world heritage site.

Architects associated with the project dismissed UNESCO's criticism as "unfounded," saying it was too early to discuss the issue.

"Bandarin has not seen the final concept, as it is simply not ready," Philip Nikandrov, a representative of RMJM London Limited, the architectural company that submitted the winning design for Gazprom City, said by telephone Thursday.

"We'll have to wait until May, when the entire project is due to be finalized. Until then, the concept is in development and things like the height and size of the building might change," he said.

RMJM's design, a 300-meter-tall twisting glass tower that the media quickly dubbed "the corn on the cob," beat out five international rivals to win the Gazprom City commission.

Gazprom's web site says the plan entails a complex covering 66.8 hectares, 4.6 hectares of which will be occupied by the skyscraper. The development is planned for the Krasnogvardeisky district of St. Petersburg on a bank of the Okhta River.

City residents remain divided on the issue, according to research conducted by the Agency for Social Information-St. Petersburg, or ASI.

"There's no unified opinion. The numbers of people in favor of the idea, opposed it and who did not know were roughly the same," ASI head Roman Mogilevsky said.

ASI also found a significant difference of opinion between younger and older residents.

"A significant number of young people we spoke with were more positive about the tower, as they were more pragmatic and willing to accept new ideas in architecture," Mogilevsky said. "They welcome the idea of new jobs, and think the tower might give them additional places for recreation."

Older residents, he said, were far less receptive to the proposal.

Staff Writer Nabi Abdullaev contributed to this report from Moscow.