Work begins on ERM site after state and municipality plot exchange deadlock

The Estonian National Museum (ERM) in Tartu
The Estonian National Museum (ERM) in Tartu Source: Estonian National Museum (ERM)

Tartu Municipality has failed to reach an agreement with the state regarding the exchange of plots in the immediate vicinity of the Estonian National Museum (ERM). The deadlock means construction work is already underway on the construction of new residential buildings on the plot closest to the museum. Concerns have been expressed that the new buildings will have a detrimental effect on the ERM's architectural value, and that it will now no be longer possible to organize major events on the museum site.

The main concept of the ERM building's internationally acclaimed architectural design is realized because of its proximity to Raadi Airfield, which is located immediately behind the museum. However, in light of the new construction work, this vision will be altered.

"It's a real shame that a housing complex is being built in the immediate vicinity of the ERM," said Kertu Saks, the museum's director. "The concept behind the ERM was that it would be built on a former military airfield. A "departure to freedom" (is the effect that) the military base created. If you build an architecturally beautiful monument surrounded by housing, you lose the (sense of the) architectural concept," said Saks

According to Saks, the ERM is also intended to be used for outdoor events such as concerts and fairs. In July 2019, heavy-metal legends Metallica performed in front of 60,000 spectators on Raadi Airfield, in the grounds immediately behind the museum. However, Saks believes that future events of that nature would now be off limits.

"When life is so close, we just interfere with each other. We know where the Metallica concert took place, but today it could no longer happen here, precisely because of this housing development," she said.

Until recently, there had been hope that the plot, which is just meters away from the main building of the museum, might remain vacant. However, that ship has now sailed.

Reterra Estate, the development company which owns the plot, said they had been open from the start to a potential land exchange with the state or municipality, however, no offer had been made.

The municipality has now granted a building permit for the plot, with construction of three new three-story apartment buildings already underway.

"The negotiations (over the site) have been going on for over a year", said Jarno Laur (SDE), mayor of Tartu Municipality. "It seems to me that with the arrival of these excavators here, the Ministry of the Environment has the chance to breathe a little easier. This train has probably left the station," Laur added.

According to the state, spatial planning is the responsibility of the local municipality. However, the Ministry of Culture also believes that the new apartment buildings will have a negative impact on the ERM's cultural value, telling ETV news show "Aktuaalne Kaamera" that alternative solutions proposed by the municipality were neither realistic nor feasible for the state.

"We do not have any land that would be logical, economically for an entrepreneur to offer in exchange," explained Laur. Because of this, we have offered the state an additional plot of land for general use. If it's not suitable, it's not suitable," he added.

Kertu Saks, director of the ERM, believes the current situation has arisen as a result of the coalition parties' inability to cooperate. However, Saks has not given up hope that another solution may be found.

"Be way of comparison, I can refer to the fact that in Tallinn, at the (site of the) Maarjamäe Memorial to the victims of communism, a football hall was going to be built, however, construction work was stopped, in the public interest. At the moment, the construction work (here) is still (only) at the stage where the fences have been put up and the soil removed, so perhaps something can still be negotiated," said Saks.

Editor: Michael Cole

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