Slesers running roughshod over the city

  • 2009-10-28
  • Staff and wire reports

RIGA - Riga Deputy Mayor Ainars Slesers (Latvia's First Party/Latvia's Way) has ordered the Riga City Council to draw up a contract to lease a section of the city's riverfront, from Vansu Bridge to Akmens Bridge, to the company P.V.B. for a period of 12 years for the construction of several floating wharves to serve as platforms for entertainment, reports news agency LETA.
No public tenders or discussions will be held on the project.

Slesers made the decision after P.V.B. owner Juris Videnieks presented him with the company's project, Riga Marine City, which foresees development of a multifunctional tourist area, with bars, restaurants, cafes, hotels, yacht and boat piers, stores, exhibition and conference halls built on floating wharves, crowding out other public activity on the riverbank promenade.
Videnieks expects that the project would create "at least 500 new jobs and increase Riga's revenues." The planned investment amount is 15-20 million euros.

Riga city councilmen from the New Era party believe that Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs (Harmony Center) is directly responsible for what happens with the Riga City Council, and that he must more actively defend the interests of Riga's residents, instead of turning a blind eye to the business interests of Slesers.

"It is not acceptable to us the methods in which decisions are made at the City Council. Instead of working for the interests of local residents and the city itself, the Riga City Council is starting huge business projects and squandering funds which could better be used to help the education sector in the city and to help the less fortunate," said the head of New Era party at the City Council Edgars Jaunups.

Taking into account that the City Council has made many controversial decisions, which raises suspicions of illegal lobbying by separate business interests, New Era has invited Usakovs to a meeting to question the mayor on these business projects, and whether they are honest and transparent.

Responding to the charges, Usakovs says that organizing a tender to select a company for the project, at this point, would be unfair to the businessman who proposed the idea. In his opinion, the idea of floating wharves is "remarkable, and if the Riga City Council invites [other] tenders this time, maybe no other enterprises will want to share their development ideas with the municipality in the future, Usakovs stressed.

Ideas for development along the Daugava, though, have been discussed for years.
P.V.B. representative Visvaldis Klintsons said that it would be very unfair if the Riga City Council organized a tender for the project. "We have been studying, analyzing, receiving permits and working on our idea for years," he said, explaining that now giving other companies the chance to implement the project would be wrong.

Slesers' deal would have P.V.B. pay the city an annual 2 lats (2.85 euros) per meter rent, not including value-added tax, for the shoreline taken up, while it remains undeveloped, then would increase to 5 lats per meter, excluding VAT, after the center starts operating.
The agreement is dated Oct. 19, the same day Slesers signed its approval. The draft resolution of the Riga City Council on the matter has already been drawn up and will be reviewed by the Riga City Council's Transport Committee. The draft resolution says that the Riga City Council authorizes the Transport Department to lease the said portion of the riverfront to P.V.B. for implementation of the Riga Marine City project.

The final decision will have to be made by the Riga City Council.
Slesers' reckless antics continue nearby, with his statement that he "is prepared to make alterations in the city's development plan" to make way for a 24-floor office building for the pharmaceutical company Grindeks. This despite the opinion of leading Latvian architects and UNESCO.
Grindeks is planning to invest 36 million euros in the building, to be located on the right bank of the Daugava river near Salu bridge. The problem here is that the long-term city development plan originally set the building height limit at five floors in this part of town, though final changes to the plan now permit a nine-floor maximum.

Riga Chief Architect Janis Dripe spoke on the city's development plan, saying it doesn't allow such high structures in this neighborhood, that the neighborhood is in fact a "protected territory. To have such a building go up, this restriction would have to be lifted and the city development plan changed," he said.

Slesers, in defending the project, pointed to Grindeks' excellent financial figures and that the neighborhood in question must be improved. He supports altering the city development plan. The vice mayor spoke of the dilapidated neighborhood, and the fact that residents are exiting it en masse. "We have to put things back in order here so that people stop running away," he said.
There have been no public announcements so far by Grindeks that they would employee all those people living in this neighborhood.

The city development plan has cost the city "hundreds of millions" in investments, says Slesers, without explaining how, and that it was drawn up in "good times." Major Grindeks shareholder Kirovs Lipmans in March reportedly gave a 10,000 lats political contribution to Slesers' party.