Government cannot agree on construction of new Rīga concert hall

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While the government continues a seemingly endless debate on where and for how much money to build a new Riga Concert Hall, the 23 million euros from European funds meant for the project is already being distributed to other projects behind the scenes, reported LSM's Latvian service on June 28.

Since the term of acquisition ends in two and a half years, and the concert hall is still up in the air, the municipality is proposing to invest the money in the Mežaparks Great Stage. A part of the sum may also be used for the renovation of the dilapidated Great Guild building.

In short:

  • The ruling coalition does not agree on the construction of the Riga Concert Hall.

  • Melbārde: None of the locations we offered were outright rejected.

  • The project architect, Sīlis, admits: Andrejsala is a possible location.

  • There is little clarity about financing the construction – there being several options.

  • 23 million euros from the EU money meant for preparing the vicinity for the concert hall must be used up by the end of 2022..

  • Melbārde admits: A portion of the EU funds can be used to repair the Great Guild.

  • The chairman of the Riga City Council Burovs suggests investing the EU funds into renovating the Mežaparks Great Stage. 

  • LNSO: funds for the Great Guild have to be found in any case case.

  • In order not to lose the EU funds, the government have to come to an agreement on the construction of the concert hall by this autumn.

On June 27, The Latvian National Orchestra issued a witty summons for the government to finally agree on the construction of the concert hall. Posing as street musicians, the orchestra played on Esplanāde as a way of symbolically raising wages and money for the construction of the concert hall. 

But the Coalition Co-operation Council meeting on Friday, June 28, failed to reach an agreement.

The Prime Minister did not come out to the press after the meeting. Instead, the former Minister for Culture Dace Melbārde (National Alliance) handled the communication.

“The discussion is still open. The main thing – the Co-operation Council expressed support for continuing work on the construction of the National Concert hall. A number of questions were raised, to which we'll have to return. They primarily concern funding.

It must be said at once that we have not yet agreed on the location. But none of the places we had suggested was outright rejected,” said Melbārde.

There are three options – the AB Dambis, Andrejosta or the Congress Hall.

Only the Riga City Council disagrees with the reconstruction, but forced expropriation would render it the most expensive of all the projects. The author of the AB dambis project Andis Sīlis admits that it could be realized in Andrejosta. 

"This architectural concept and solution was created for the vicinity of Vecrīga and Daugava. Whether its the one side or the other doesn't really matter. I would agree [to move], yes,” said the architect.

Melbārde, however, called such a possibility “theoretical” and, it is likely, the change of location would mean a new project competition.

Moreover, in Andrejosta, where a company connected to the ex-politician Andris Šķēle promises to provide land for the project, it would be necessary to invest at least 25 million euros into the surrounding infrastructure, straightening out Eksporta iela and creating a new tram line. 

The third option would be to rebuild the Congress Hall, but the Riga City Council is against this.

“The most important aspect is that the current area is much smaller than the area required for the concert hall. We can't cut down many trees in the park to broaden the building area. At the moment, therefore, this option is not ideal,” stated Oļegs Burovs (Honor to Serve Riga), the temporary manager of Riga City Council.

The future Minister for Culture Nauris Puntulis (National Alliance) said that the government is committed to building the concert hall, but there are still no decisions on the location or financial sources.

The concert hall alone, according to Melbārde, would require 70 – 90 million euros, but it is still unclear as to how it will be financed.

One option is a public private partnership, which would mean building the concert hall for private funds and the state paying the money back in the long run. This course was considered the best one by the current adviser to the Minister of Finance, and former minister for Culture, Ints Dālderis (Unity).

“I believe that if the coalition could agree on a model for private-public partnerships, it would be a model created outside of the [public budget] balance, which we could certainly consider and support. But it must be clearly defined what it would be and how it could be realized,” said Dālderis.

But if the concert hall were to be financed from the state budget, the Ministry of Culture proposes to raise additional funds by imposing a 12% value added tax on cultural event tickets and the so-called “pillow” tax on tourists. 

This, however, would bring only two million euros per year to the state budget.

“We can't be sure that this strategy will be chosen, but we have proposed it be considered if the state budget is chosen as the sole strategy, then additional revenue could be generated in the state budget,” noted Melbārde. 

The government is likely to continue arguing over the financing for a long while. In the meantime, the deadline for the acquisition of the EU funds is coming closer– 23 million euros meant for preparing the vicinity for the concert hall must be used up by the end of 2022.

"These 23 million are meant for the preservation of cultural heritage sites, and we see this as one of the sources from which we could repair the Great Guild,” said Melbārde.

Renovating the dilapidated home of the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra would require at least five million euros.

Oļegs Burovs (Honor to Serve Riga), the current Deputy Mayor of Rīga, has his eye on the rest of the sum, proposing to invest it in the reconstruction of the Mežaparks Great Stage, a project for the final stage of which it would be difficult to obtain additional loans from the State Treasury.

"We need 23 million, including VAT, in order to complete [the bandstand]. And we have two and a half years to finish it.[...] I think it is economical. So we ask you – maybe you could give this the money for it, but when we'll start talking about one or other form of the concert hall, of course, big investments in the infrastructure will be needed. […] In both cases, we are relying on European funds, but they need to be co-financed, and then the municipality will co-finance it,” said Burovs.

As of yet, there has been no agreement on such a course of action. 

The board member of the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra Ināra Lūkina emphasised that “whatever the case, the solution for the Great Guild has to be found. We are currently talking about an approximate estimate of five million euros for technical repairs to ensure that the space is safe for listeners and musicians alike.”

It is unknown when will the government finally come to a resolution as to the building of the concert hall. In order not to lose the money for the installation of AB Dambis, the government has to agree on the location of the concert hall by autumn. 

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