ALMATY -- Residents of Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, are raising alarms over a development project which would see the densely populated metropolis lose more than half of a popular park.
The Atakent Exhibition Complex, a park with pavilions and restaurants, would be set to lose some 30 of its 54 hectares to make space for a new auditorium if the project is approved by city authorities.
“This raises a major alarm. It’s an area where some 9,000 trees grow,” Madina Makypova, the president of the Atakent complex, said at a July 16 press conference.
The Almaty government’s urban planning department insists the construction project is still just a business “proposal” that hasn’t been officially approved.
However, officials at the Almaty Green Economy Department told RFE/RL that the ownership of 30 hectares of the park at the Atakent complex is being transferred to the local government.
The Atakent Exhibition Complex is a joint stock company with state participation.
The environmental protection group Baitak-Bolashak calls the project “irrational” and slams it as a “crime against Almaty and its residents.”
"We are talking about 30 hectares of land and 9,000 trees -- it’s horrible," said Adilkasym Zarylkasynuly, a Baitak-Bolashak representative. "It must be prevented. It has to be brought to the attention of the public, to the attention of President [Qasym-Zhomart] Toqaev."
“We have enough amphitheaters in the city, like the Almaty Arena, the Khalyk Arena,” the activist said, pointing out that most of those buildings are often “empty.”
The Atakent park provides shade and fresh air to city dwellers and is especially popular during the hot summer season.
'We Won’t Have Fresh Air To Breathe'
The Almaty-based Ecological Society of Green Salvation said the park in downtown Almaty has “great environmental importance” to the city.
“The construction of the congress hall will upset the ecological balance of the area,” the group wrote in a statement last month.
With more than 2 million inhabitants, Almaty is Kazakhstan’s most-populous city and home to some 11 percent of the country’s population.
“If they construct a congress hall here, we won’t have fresh air to breathe,” one Almaty resident told RFE/RL.
WATCH: Report on the Atakent Exhibition Complex from RFE/RL's Kazakh Service (in Russian)
“They are cutting trees and building a new building. It’s wrong,” said the woman, taking a stroll in the park.
Another woman on a bike ride in the park said she is “absolutely against” a development in the park.
“There is already a shortage of trees in the city,” she said.
An ethnic Russian cyclist told RFE/RL that the city's residents are aware of the construction plans.
"We are against it, but I suspect our opinions won’t change anything," he said. "The local government will do whatever it wants. The decision is not up to the people.”
Aydin Rakhimbaev, the head of the BI Group, the company behind the Atakent construction project, told RFE/RL that his company is not planning to cut down the thousands of trees.
He added that BI Group has proposed the construction of a modern “convention center that would host various events such as exhibitions, concerts, forums...and conferences, among others.”
The businessman stressed that construction work for the planned complex would not begin without the consent of Almaty's residents.