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City Says Manezh Can't Be Restored

Valeria Korchagina, The Moscow Times

City Hall said Tuesday that the 19th-century Central Manezh Exhibition Hall, which was gutted in a blaze on March 7, cannot be restored as originally promised, raising anew the specter that the city has controversial plans for the site.

In another indication that the nature of the project is changing, City Hall also cancelled the results of a tender to restore the Manezh that were announced before the fire. The tender was won by Austrian firm M.S.I. Vertriebs.

"[This decision] is a result of the fact that after the fire there is no longer any talk about reconstruction and restoration," Deputy Mayor Iosif Ordzhonikidze was quoted by Interfax as saying.

"It is now an issue of rebuilding, since many of the elements will have to be made anew," he said.

The nearly 200-year-old architectural gem has long been eyed by city authorities as a prime spot for investment. However, the Manezh is protected by the status of a national architectural monument, and little could be done with it before the fire. The building for decades was a popular exhibition site for the arts.

Concerns were raised after the fire that the Manezh would be converted into a mall with underground parking Ц a contemporary kitsch replica of its former self. City Hall immediately promised to restore the building to its former luster.

A debate on whether to dig under the restored Manezh Ц to provide space for parking as well as storage space for exhibitions Ц was seemingly laid to rest by a federal council, which voted against any additions earlier this spring.

But Ordzhonikidze said Tuesday that plans are being drafted to add underground space.

"These are worrying signs," Moscow City Duma Deputy Yevgeny Bunimovich said by telephone.

The shift in the description of the restoration work could be aimed at eventually lowering the status of the building, thus permitting City Hall to introduce changes to the original structure, including the parking garage, he said.

"This whole thing also looks strange because the firm that won the tender actually said that even after the fire it was willing to proceed with the project," he said.

Ordzhonikidze said the fire had prompted the annulment of the tender.

Officials at M.S.I. Vertriebs' office in Moscow were unable to comment on the annulment.

Alexei Klimenko, chairman of the Russian Artists' Union Commission on Preservation of Historical and Cultural Heritage, promised to put up a fight if City Hall tries to modify the Manezh.

"Such changes will not be allowed at any cost," Klimenko said, adding that enough of the Manezh survived the fire for a complete restoration.

Klimenko has suggested that the fire was not the result of a short circuit, as the city has said, but arson aimed at clearing the way for a complete overhaul of the site.

"They hoped that the wall would burn down with the roof," he said by telephone. "But the brickwork in the walls is so amazing. It is true Roman quality."

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