Big development planned for little island

  • 2005-04-20
  • By Stephanie Milbergs
RIGA - Riga's ever-changing economic, social, and political infrastructure is creeping its way out of the historic center and into more peaceful areas. The island of Lucavsala is a perfect example.

"The future vision of Riga is to have some more centers in [downtown] Riga, which includes developing different parts of the city. Lucavsala can be one of these local centers," explains Andris Kronbergs, architect and head of Arhis design, which has assumed responsibility for the "vision and development of the island."

Investment companies and urban planners are intensely devising a future for this 90-hectare island, centrally located behind the television tower erected on Zakusala Island. Construction is set for autumn 2006.

"This is a huge project and therefore there will be lots of different investors," says Kronbergs. "At the end of the day, we'll get a small city with 40,000 people."

According to Janis Adamsons, director of the company Buvalts, which is managing the Lucavsala project proposal, five Latvian construction companies and an individual architect "partook in a competition to create Lucavsala." The companies collaborating on the area's development, under the umbrella-name Lucavsala, include: Kalnozols, RE and RE, Latvijas Energoceltnieks, RBS Skals, and Guntis Ravis.

"The rules of the competition were that investors must invest money first to create infrastructure on the island, then to arrange and build the necessary electricity, sewage nets, water supply, gas-supply transport nets and bridges," Adamsons explains. "In addition, it is necessary to elevate the ground level because water from the Baltic Sea flows into the Daugava; thus it is essential to elevate the island 50-70 cm., meaning some thousand cubic meters of ground must be raised."

The director adds that approximately 32-33 million lats (46-47 million euros) will go toward infrastructure, and then "we can start to think about business investment."

"Out of a total of 18 companies, only Lucavsala and the Estonian company Merks really had a vision for this island," says Adamsons, adding that a development commission appointed the company to the project.

Yet, when the choice was passed along to the municipal stage, it was the last meeting and a decision could not be agreed on.

"For this reason, the situation is not stable," the director says. "The development commission is researching the decision to move this project forward, [as the] municipality must settle this [choice] as soon as possible."

Total investment for the Lucavsala project is 750 millions lats, to be dispersed over 18 years. Before construction begins, says Adamsons, an investor must first create a new, detailed layout, which takes about nine months and then it must be approved by the local municipality.

"Lucavsala needs a guarantee from financial institutions for investment in this project. Each year there are 40-50 million lats [set aside] for project investments," says Adamsons.

Lucavsala Island is blessed with natural beauty and a prime location. The island, surrounded by the Daugava River, is filled with lush, green vegetation. Investors, urban planners and architects will strive to work with and maintain this natural state.

Waterfronts and green areas will be preserved, Kronbergs says, as there exists a "special feeling on this island where you feel you are in the countryside [while simultaneously] being centrally connected."

Except for some private homes and gardens along one bank, the island remains essentially untouched. Thus, the area carries great development potential.

"It is possible to create a nice landscape, [as well as] a multi-functional area for business, hotels and private homes," says Adamsons. "In the center will be high-story buildings and smaller buildings [will surround these, eventually] moving to one- and two-story private dwelling."

The center of Lucavsala has potential to surpass downtown Riga, Kronbergs says. One day, Lucavsala will be developed enough to include commercial areas, multi-story residential areas, houses situated along the water and near parks, as well as schools, churches, and shopping centers, Kronbergs adds. There are even plans to construct an extensive sports hall with rowing and paddleboat options off the island's northern coast.

Adamsons emphasizes that Lucavsala is a very "clean" island in an ideal location with the capacity to harbor hotel chains, banks, and office buildings along with residential homes.

"Many businesses in Old Riga should be moved to Lucavsala," he says. "I imagine that big foreign companies would like to arrange branches on the island."

If all goes as planned, Lucavsala Island could very well be Riga's next investment haven.