Vilnius plans to spice up right bank

  • 2002-07-11
  • Matt Kovalick

The left bank of the Neris River, a bit like the more famous one that lies along the Seine, has always been Vilnius' most fashionable district, with the Old Town's elegant cobblestone streets, and scores of shopping and entertainment options.

But the city could be in for a seismic shift when an urban development project along the right bank brings the city a new crop of shops, restaurants and a 10,000-seat sports and concert hall - all accessible by a new tram.

Municipal officials, development firms and a basketball star-turned-businessman all claim the project could transform Vilnius into "a modern European city."

"I believe the riverside in Vilnius will be the most attractive place for development in the coming years," said Vilnius-based architect Aage Myhre, who nevertheless warns that glass and steel should not be allowed to overwhelm "the human side" of the city.

"I think the development will have a positive effect on the city. All plans focus on the area as a commercial and administrative center," said Virgaudas Jocevicius, president of the Skanska Statyba construction firm.

A 15-story Hanner office building will be the landmark in the new district, which runs along the waterfront. At 70 million litas ($20 million), the 14,900-square-meter building should be completed by the end of 2003.Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas said a vibrant right bank would divert traffic and relieve congestion in the Old Town.

Beyond removing the stodgy government buildings that line Vilnius' main drag, Gedimino Prospect, city officials also say the construction project will make Vilnius among the most efficient and best-functioning cities in Central and Eastern Europe.

One five-story multipurpose center planned for the area that will offer everything from dance clubs to a fitness center is the brainchild of former National Basketball Association star Sa-runas Marciulionis.

Called the Forum Palace, the center will be an upscale, multifunctional building that will house a fitness center, an 800-seat-capacity music and banquet hall that will double as a dance club three nights a week, a restaurant, sports bar, casino and halls for special events such as conferences and wedding receptions.

It is scheduled to open in January 2003.

Marciulionis will be taking an even bigger risk on the 10,000-seat concert and sports hall he wants to build next door. City officials have also called the new sports arena "a priority task." They are currently in discussions about how to finance and plan construction.

"It would be a crime not to have our own stadium in a central location," Marciulionis said. "It's a matter of pride, and it would help promote Lithuania."

He said that if the basketball-crazed country was serious about possibly hosting the European Basketball Championship in 2007, a modern arena is mandatory.

Norwegian architect Aage Myhre, however, said the city should seek more advice from Western firms before it pushes forward.

"I would love to see a real river plan showing activities and how the river should be used," he said. "I think the focus has been too much on buildings not on human activity."

Builders have a number of options, he said, including one that would connect new developments along the riverbank with nearby restaurants and outdoor cafÎs, playgrounds and pedestrian paths.