Tallinn mayor: Several city projects either off table or depend on EU funds

Estonia puiestee in Tallinn. A proposed tunnel linking the street to the Viru Keskus shopping mall is now off the table.
Estonia puiestee in Tallinn. A proposed tunnel linking the street to the Viru Keskus shopping mall is now off the table. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Tallinn mayor Mihhail Kõlvart says that with the city's finances as they now are, some major projects which had at least been touted, such as a tunnel between Estonia puiestee in central Tallinn and the Viru Keskus shopping center, will not go ahead. However, some projects, including a proposed new Tallinn hospital, may do if European Union money is forthcoming.

"We need to look at urban space as a whole, where many projects run together. The first of these is the tram line to the port, the next project is Rävala Pst, and we are working on these projects in parallel. It must be acknowledged that the tunnel project on Estonia pst is no longer a priority. Primarily, this is a very expensive construction that we will not be able to carry out in the new economic situation," the mayor told ERR's Indrek Kiisler in a radio interview.

With the EU budget unexpectedly likely to increase via a joint loan and other measures, the mayor said that should extra money be forthcoming, a planned new hospital in Tallinn may go ahead.

"We have immediate large projects on the table compared with other municipalities. The largest of these is the proposed new hospital in Tallinn, the second is the Linnahall, and the third is the reconstruction of Peterburi tee. We will deal with the last two even if the money of the EU does not come. In the case of Tallinn Hospital, the city cannot build it itself, and the construction depends on whether or not it receives support from the EU," Kõlvart noted.

Russian-language news broadcasts may reappear in autumn

The recent virtual demise of Tallinn TV and Russian-language news broadcasts via pan-Baltic channel PBK during the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing emergency situation raised the question of what happens in Tallinn with Russian-language broadcasting. The mayor said restructuring would be needed if this were to happen.

" Currently, Tallinn news can be viewed on Estonian-language channels and also on Russian-language channels. Our news is being viewed - in the case of Russian-language news, PBK news was the most popular source during the coronavirus crisis and there was a lot of interest in it. We can see that this project needs to move forward, but initially it was intended to be temporary...It can only be brought back if the structure of current programs is changed, as we simply do not have to put extra money into the news. Other programs would simply need to be scaled down to free up resource for news."

As to when this might happen, the mayor said autumn was feasible, but not set in stone yet.

Underground tunnel linking main Tallinn street and shopping center off the table

Kõlvart also said that a planned tunnel from Estonia pst to the Viru Keskus shopping mall was likely off the cards now, and in any case had not led to any firmed-up cooperation model.

"Indeed, this project is so expensive, and its construction is also linked to other projects. We need to find alternatives to the tunnel, he said.

Linnahall: Coronavirus took out Tallink, waiting on Brussels for EU options

While Tallink announced plans to redevelop the Linnahall on the eve of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company was hard hit by the developments starting in March, meaning that this to is up in the air, along with a state aid application sent to the EU two years ago, which envisioned a multi-faceted development at the site including a conference center. The latter process has been particularly long-winded, Kõlvart said, partly with changes in the EU and commission as terms ended and new ones began.

"When we presented the cooperation project with Tallink, I also emphasized that until the plan is set up in detail and a precise financial solution is found, we will continue to deal with the state aid application from Brussels in parallel," the mayor said.

"This procedure is ongoing, although it must be honestly acknowledged that it has taken an unreasonable amount of time to date. We are currently answering additional questions, in the meantime the composition of the European Commission has also changed, which has led to a new round of questions."

Resolution on the LInnahall was still the mayor's desire.

"In any case, we want to complete this procedure. We must also have a state aid permit should Tallink's participation becomes significantly smaller, and we need also to involve the Estonian state in the renovation and construction of the conference center. The state has promised us this, where state's share would be €40 million," he said.

Proposed new Tallinn hospital

As to the proposed new Tallinn hospital, since this would likely cost up to half a billion euros, it is again beyond the city government's coffers at this point, though instead investments could be made in upgrading current hospitals and their facilities.

"There is also a chance that the Estonian state will contribute financially to the construction of a Tallinn Hospital. But as an alternative, we must also start preparing for the modernization of existing hospitals," Kõlvart said.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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