RIGA - With time running out, the four parties involved in the construction of the troubled hockey stadium needed for the 2006 World Ice Hockey Championship agreed on March 23 to sign an agreement later in the week, even though the government had set that date as the negotiation deadline.
Multihalle, Merk, the Latvian Hockey Federation and the city government were expected to finalize the deal later this week, but as The Baltic Times went to press it was again unclear whether a conclusive agreement could be reached.
"A compromise agreement has been reached, and Mulithalle is ready to sign the agreement after the agreed upon changes are made and that could be this week," Vija Kasakovska, media coordinator for Multihalle, said.
Despite the public optimism, the four sides need to come up with specific agreements in order for the stadium project to proceed.
But three of the parties - Multihalle, Merk and the Riga City Council - had yet to agree over the use of the land the stadium will be built on.
Another deal also needs to be signed between Mulithalle and Merk, something that had to take place before the two groups could make any financial guarantee.
Also, the government intends to require a guarantee of 575,000 lats (858,000 euros) from Multihalle the local company that won the project tender and 10 percent of the overall construction costs, or 2.6 million euros, from the construction company Merks to insure that the stadium is built on time, Viesturs Silenieks spokesman for Prime Minister Indulis Emsis said.
The championship was originally granted to Latvia in 2001, yet construction of an 11,000-seat stadium, which must be completed by September 2005, has suffered constant setbacks.
If construction does not begin soon Latvia may lose out the World Ice Hockey Championship.
The estimated cost of the project is 26 million euros.
Rene Fazel, chairman of the International Ice Hockey Federation, is scheduled to arrive in Riga in April to make a final decision on whether the Latvian capital will host the championship.
But stadium coordinators were keeping a brave face and a positive spin.
"Everything will happen just as we have planned," Kirovs Lipmans, head of the Latvian Hockey Federation, told The Baltic Times. "We all agreed in the meeting, and the building of the stadium has already begun."
Still, as of last weekend only two small cranes - both standing idle - were on the proposed site of the stadium.
Other obstacles to the project were creeping up.
The Riga City Council warned that it might terminate a lease agreement on the stadium land if Multihalle and Merk did not sign an agreement between themselves.
Mayor Gundars Bojars has said that the city has done everything it has been required to do to facilitate the construction of the stadium.
Previous to the March 23 talks the official government position was murky with conflicting messages from the prime minister and his deputy disagreeing over whether the state would intervene to save the project.
Prime Minister Indulis Emsis had stated repeatedly that the government would not invest in the troubled hockey stadium project, not least of all because the timeframe had become a risk.
Emsis' statement came a day after his deputy, Ainars Slesers, had proposed government intervention to save the project and insure the championship would be held in Latvia, a nation of avid hockey fans.
Emsis dismissed Slesers' comments, calling them "impromptu" and denying financial participation by the state.
Slesers, who had been a deputy PM in the previous government, was also blamed by former Prime Minister Einars Repse for the failure to secure a deal.
If built, the hockey stadium could lead to the construction of a hotel, shopping mall and office buildings in the same area.
Merks, the subsidiary of Estonia's Merko Ehitus, entered negotiations and agreed to build the stadium provided they are allowed to help build the projects that will surround the stadium and are potentially worth far more than the stadium itself.