Massive cultural center envisioned for Tallinn

  • 2003-05-15
  • Aleksei Gunter

A group of young Estonian businessmen have recently expressed their eagerness to rebuild the Sakala Center into the largest culture and free-time center in the country, thereby helping to make Minister of Culture Urmas Paet's dream come true.

If the businessmen were to have their way, the total area of the Sakala Center, a Soviet-era complex located in downtown Tallinn across the street from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and just a few steps from the National Opera Theater, would nearly double to 35,000 square meters after the overhaul.

One of Tallinn's well known institutions, the Sakala Center is home to the main screenings during the Black Nights Film Festival held every December since 1998. During the rest of the year the center is used mainly as a conference hall and fair facility, not to mention the venue for Jazzkaar, the famous jazz festival.

Peeter Rebane, chairman of BDG concert promotion that is initiating the project, said the company presented its vision of the future Sakala Center to the Ministry of Culture in December 2002.

"It was nice that, instead of selling the shares of the center, the state decided to find an operator company with a vision of Sakala Center's future," he said.

Three other bids for the 55-year-old building came from realestate developers who are mulling over erecting a hotel rather than revamping the cultural center.

The Ministry of Culture will choose the best bidder in two or three weeks.

The BDG project is supported by the Estonian Film Foundation, Tallinnfilm studios, the Culture Endowment Fund and Estonian associations of designers and artists.

The BDG reconstruction project will amount to 270 million kroons (17 million euros), all of which will come from private investors.

Rebane said BDG hoped to break even in 15 - 16 years.

If all goes according to plan, the new complex will open in autumn 2005.

According to the blueprints, the old complex will be extensively expanded and reconstructed. The new wing of the center will feature a number of elegant glass-covered passages visible from the street.

What's more, apart from a multipurpose concert hall and the art film center, the new, BDG-inspired Sakala will host a 1,500-square-meter conference facility, multiplex cinema, jazz club, dance and choir studio, fitness center, skating rink and underground parking for 240 cars.

The crowning achievement of the project will be a massive book, music and entertainment store good enough to compete with the famous Akademia bookstore in Helsinki.

Rebane waxes optimistic about the project.

"First, there is no such a place in Estonia now. Second, given that Tallinn is likely to become the EU culture capital in 2008, the city will undergo an enormous demand for cultural facilities," he said.

"Third, Linnahall (City Hall) will be closed and demolished soon, and a certain shortage of concert area will appear," he added.

Linnahall, a huge multi-purpose sports and concert arena built for the 1980 Olympic Games, has not been renovated in the last several years and is likely to be closed, the city government stated last week.

According to Tonis Haavel of LHV, an investment bank that will handle the funding of the BDG project, size is what really matters in such projects.

"The new Sakala will be big enough so as to interest foreign capital as well," he said.

"The location is also very favorable – it's in the center and close to other cultural centers such as the National Opera Theater."