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St. Petersburg’s "blank spots”

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St. Petersburg is not only about pompous palaces, modernist mansions and Leningrad constructivism. Its also about “blank spots”, without which, unfortunately, you cannot imagine our city. Now we have a chance to put an end to that. Pavel Nikiforov reports

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Pavel Nikiforov, reporter: “There are places in St. Petersburg where a residential building stands across from a hazardous one. And this decay makes an entire block. Barbed wire, piles of trash, broken bricks. Only white tiles remind us that Ushakov’s Baths were here back in the days”

This is Ushakov’s Baths “Gigant” – tucked into a half-collapsed block behind Narvskaya Zastava. White tiles and showers – the only evidence of the building’s past. It’s a monument to constructivism, courtesy of designer Nikolskiy. The round-shaped bathhouse was due for demolition after a fire and many years of not being used, but now there’s a real chance to save the architectural landmark.

But how would you use the grim 1930s brick and steel building today – thus allowing to rescue it from demolition? The bathhouse could accommodate 4000 people and, because of its shape, could preserve heat inside for a long time. So what type of facility would need these characteristics? For instance, a fitness center! This is the idea behind saving the “blank spots” of St. Petersburg – invent a new function for hazardous buildings, so that major businesses can save those.

This is the essence of the initiative by “Property Fund”, which creates the map of hazardous and populated buildings of St. Petersburg. And those are helped to be found by the city’s residents. For instance, this building covered with faux façade – which used to belong to Pokrovskaya Hospital at Boloshoi Prospekt of Vasilievskiy Island – was photographed and emailed to the Fund by a local resident.

Yakov Vasilyev, head of development department at St. Petersburg’s Property Fund: “You’re not just uploading a photo, it goes straight to the Property Fund’s website. And we are immediately getting a picture of the site with the address, which is determined automatically.

After which, the Fund gathers all possible information about the building – condition, status and proprietor. The goal is to create as comprehensive of a registry of such buildings as possible. But creating the inventory is just the first task of a larger task. And in order to understand it better, we’re heading with an employee of the Property Fund into the suburbs – where there’s just as many hazardous and abandoned buildings as there are in the city center.

Luxurious restaurant “Lesnoy” – for 80 people – at Udelniy Park. Or, to be more precise, whats left of it. Neo-classic Stalin’s architecture. 1958. One of the Leningrad residents’ favorite spots in this part of the city. In 2010 the building burned to the ground. It was also included into the Property Fund’s registry and put on the map of St. Petersburg’s abandoned properties. The next step is getting documents ready and sell the site for future redevelopment and bringing it back to life.

-Does the Fund set a minimum price, followed by a classic auction – who offers more? Or how is it being done?

Yakov Vasilyev, head of development department at St. Petersburg’s Property Fund: “The bidding is usually held upon the starting price principle. Investors raise tablets and the highest bidder wins it”

So, essentially, the Property Fund with its initiative is first and foremost an auction, which offers bidding for sale and renting of both hazardous and residential buildings. This is “Festival” cinema at Prospekt Prosvescheniya, built in the mid-1980s. Two halls accommodating 1100 people. Brutal style. You can see excellently preserved ceiling lamps through cracked windows. Someone attached a “Fischer” ski plank to the building’s façade. It had been in operation for only 10 years, but was shut down when the movie market went down the drain in the 1990s. In the mid-2000s there was an attempt to open a Youth Center here, but to no avail.

  • Has there been any interest to this site from investors or businesses?

Yakov Vasilyev, head of development department at St. Petersburg’s Property Fund: “We are witnessing interest towards such sites. On our channel “Renew the city” we posted an article about this site with historic background – and, judging by the number of views, we can see that it sparked interest. And, without doubt, such sites in a densely populated area are destined to have a new life breathed into them”

Yes, this map and registry are an initiative of the Property Fund. But we have to renew the city ourselves. Such “blank spots” occupy a hefty proportion of the city’s total property assets – and those can and must have a chance for a new life. Would anyone object to having a fitness center inside Ushakov bathhouse “Gigant”? Or having family gatherings at “Lesnoy” restaurant every weekend? Or opening a medical center at Pokrovskaya hospital? Or an entertainment center at the brutal building of “Festival” cinema? Old buildings with a new function – sounds like a very real plan of renewing the city.

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