Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Romania: Debate Rages Over What to Do with World's 2nd Largest Building

Text by Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times*

1 February 2010 | The public is divided over a proposal to develop the world's second largest building into the biggest mall in Europe.

Silvius Prigoana thinks the parliament building where he serves as a liberal-democrat would make a great mall for citizens and tourists and a lot of money for Romania.

The lawmaker plans to submit a bill on the issue, which he claims will create more than 20,000 new jobs.

The idea for Romania's seat of parliament -- known in the communist era as the People's House and today as Parliament Palace -- has split politicians and the public.

A prosperous businessman with the backing of his peers in the commercial world, Prigoana argues that one of Bucharest's main tourist attractions is too expensive to maintain by the government. "From a public spending point of view, [it is] a catastrophe," he said.

The lawmaker noted that only 30% of the building is used, at a cost of more than 50m euros a year.

"When the state budget needs every penny, it is not permissible to ignore a potential for several hundred million euros per year," said Prigoana on his blog. "I consider less important the subsequent fate of the building or who will administer it … instead of spending public money, we make money for the budget."

Economists said that a shopping centre at the palace -- which would be four times larger than Afi Palace Cotroceni, currently the largest mall in southeast Europe -- could bring Romania 100m euros in annual revenue.

Many bloggers disagree [all links lead to blogs in Romanian].

"The building is part of Bucharest's history [and] identity … and is admired by foreigners. Why kill our history, tear the historic print of our city, seized by the post-1989 frustrations, to try to build a different Bucharest? A city lives with its history," said Ioana Despina Camino on her blog.

Daniela dislikes the commercial idea while imagining the building for more cultured purposes -- "a science centre: planetarium, aquarium, museum, exhibition halls, theatre and cinema halls, libraries". She does not believe anything will come of it.

Alinp noted tremendous sacrifices that went into constructing the building. "I say that no state institutions should function there. If what they say is true -- that the place was built with many human sacrifices and suffering -- then I think that any decision taken there is not for the country's benefit."

Journalist Costi Rogozanu took a worst case scenario perspective. "What if it doesn't work out? What if the business fails?" he said, warning of the risk of a "huge and deserted house, the symbol of Romanian capitalism, right at the very heart of the city".

Leon agreed -- at least in principle -- with Prigoana. "The man seems to be pragmatic. If they use only 30% of the building, why not use it all for a bigger profit? I am sure they won't lack customers."

*This text is courtesy of the Southeast European Times (SET), a web site sponsored by the US Department of Defense in support of UN Resolution 1244, designed to provide an international audience with a portal to a broad range of information about Southeastern Europe. It highlights movement toward greater regional stability and steps governments take toward integration into European institutions. SET also focuses on developments that hinder both terrorist activity and support for terrorism in the region.

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