Deadline approaches for arena completion

  • 2011-05-18
  • By Matt Garrick

Additional funding gets workers back on site.

VILNIUS - Frosty relations between the municipality of Kaunas and Lithuanian construction company Vetruna, the firm responsible for building the 200 million-plus litas (58 million euros) Zalgiris Arena currently underway in the city, were recently thawed due to added funding for the project, and the installation of a new mayor and cabinet to the city.
The deadline for the project’s completion was set for February this year, but due to issues with financing, the arena, which officials plan to christen hosting the finals of Europe’s major basketball tournament, Eurobasket 2011, in September, continues to remain unfinished.

Recently inaugurated Kaunas Mayor Rimantas Mikaitis has affirmed that the city council and construction firm Vetruna were reforging a tricky relationship, and heaving toward a new July 1 deadline for the arena’s completion. “I think, what we found when we started four weeks ago, was mutual trust was very low,” the new mayor told The Baltic Times. “Now the situation and the climate are better. There is better understanding. There was a list of additional jobs, things to be added for the arena, and it was necessary for the city council to make the decision to allocate additional money for that. It was a necessary step to move forward and speed up, for the arena to be finished at the latest by July 1. I think it will be ready.”

The additional costs agreed upon will take the total budget of the central Kaunas project up to 235 million litas, and will include the construction of infrastructure including two bridges and a nearby two-level parking garage.
 The capital for the project “came from a number of different sources,” Mikaitis relayed. “Fifty million litas stemmed from the EU, 50 million from the Lithuanian government, and the rest came from the municipality. This was just for the arena. For the added infrastructure, the bridges, the Ministry of Transport financed a big part.”

Initial problems between the council offices and Vetruna had begun due to funding cuts to the project two years ago, when Kaunas was in the midst of an economic slump. The initial figure which had been offered for the construction of the proposed world-class arena was 169 million litas, not including the excess needed for surrounding infrastructure. The following financial year the figure “decreased very much, to 156 million. But, it was really impossible to build it for that amount of money. And the building company was not happy with this new indexation,” conveyed Mikaitis.
“Now, expenses are growing upwards, and including this decision with additional jobs, it will cost something very close to the initial figure at the beginning,” he said.

Officials from Vetruna confirmed their satisfaction to move ahead on construction works, after the project had reportedly stagnated with no real development for a number of months. “Additional works will provide the arena not only with more modern comfort and coziness, but also with the strong base for the completion of the arena’s construction,” said company spokesman Dzeraldas Kauneckas. The company also expressed their wish to achieve a stronger working relationship with the Kaunas municipality board, and believed, due to the new administration’s shown ability to work toward the arena’s funding amendments, a future working partnership was possible.

“A major portion of the documents related to the arena’s project changes, necessary for further construction works, were kept at the liable offices of the municipality for months. Vetruna believes the new administration will fix all these formalities quickly,” confirmed Kauneckas.

Earlier in the year, as former deadlines were overrun, public and government outcry flooded the Lithuanian press, as rumors began to spread of the project’s bankruptcy, and the inability of Vetruna to achieve any progress. 
“There were some workers in the arena, but they didn’t work at full speed. Kind of an imitation of work, because they were very unhappy with the decreasing of total figures [offered to build the project],” alleged Mikaitis. 
“The fact that the Telsiai-based Vetruna is completing the project late shouldn’t come as a surprise given the firm’s track record. A disagreement between Nukem Technologies and Vetruna has delayed the construction of a nuclear waste containment unit at Ignalina for five years, to 2013,” reported the now defunct news outlet, Baltic Reports, in August last year.
Vetruna have since declared the delays on the construction of Zalgiris Arena were due to architectural alterations, rather than from financial woe.

The arena’s construction would have been finished by autumn last year, if it was not for the architect, together with the client, “revising the coverage of works, changing construction materials and equipment parameters,” claimed Kauneckas. “Zalgiris Arena is a historical building for the city of Kaunas, and will attract visitors, so the striving of the client to create an exceptional arena without any analogues within the region is understandable.”

Representatives in charge of organizing the high-profile Eurobasket competition finals traveled to the site recently, and were confident the championships will still take place in the arena. “Representatives of FIBA Europe and FIBA World visited Kaunas last week, and were more than satisfied with the progress made during the last two months.  They know the arena will be ready,” confirmed public relations manager for Eurobasket 2011, Rytis Sabas.