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Controversial Plan For St. Petersburg Skyscraper Canceled

The plan to build a skyscraper in the historic center of St. Petersburg has been scrapped.
Russian authorities have canceled a controversial plan to build a towering glass and steel skyscraper in St. Petersburg that opponents have long said would have ruined the city’s magnificent baroque skyline.

St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko told Russian news agency ITAR-TASS, “A final decision on the move has been taken.” The 403-meter tower, which was set to house the state-run energy-giant Gazprom, would have been the tallest in Europe and the first skyscraper in the city.

Matviyenko said the decision to relocate the site was made by the city government and Gazprom.

Both Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are originally from St. Petersburg, and while the tower had Putin’s support, last year a leaked letter from Medvedev revealed the president’s opposition to the plan.

The Kremlin seemed to align itself with opponents, with a source telling multiple news agencies that Medvedev’s position "played a direct role" in the decision to move the tower.

When plans to build the massive Okhta-Center were announced, it caused an immediate outcry among residents of St. Petersburg, which was founded by Peter the Great in 1703 as Russia's window to Europe. The city is known as the "Venice of the North" for its stunning baroque architecture and charming canals.

UNESCO, the UN's cultural organization, wrote several letters to St. Petersburg's government warning that construction of the skyscraper could endanger the city’s status on UNESCO's World Heritage list.

In July, a collective of civic and professional organizations screened a film against the construction, “SOS Petersburg.”

The literary critic Samuil Lurye told RFE/RL’s Russian Service that he believes the plan to erect the skyscraper in the city’s historic center was driven by the Kremlin’s desire to “[humiliate] the city, the intelligentsia, and show that [the authorities] could do whatever they wanted."

"I'm happy now," Lurye said. "But I have no doubt they will now come up with some other nasty thing instead."

Boris Vishnevsky, a leading member of the opposition Yabloko party, told RFE/RL’s Russian Service that the decision to abandon the original building site was at least partly a result of the persistent efforts by citizens to stop the project, which garnered international attention.

"Any further resistance would have had bad political consequences for [Governor Matviyenko]." he said. "There has also been a gentle hint from the very top that [the St. Petersburg authorities] should finally give up their stubborn position, which has also played an important role."

Governor Matviyenko said city residents would be kept informed about proposals for a new site and that the decision would not be made without their approval.

written by Heather Maher, with RFE/RL's Russian Service and agency reports
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