Local residents have expressed ongoing concerns about the development of the planned new United States Embassy building in Tallinn. The plot, adjacent to the "Super-ministry" building between Suur-Ameerika and Väike-Ameerika, in central Tallinn, is currently a sports field, and one of the issues has been that this will be built over.
The neighborhood, known as Uus Maailm, will undergo changes once ground is broken for the embassy buildings, in the pipeline for several years now, though the open space between Suur-Ameerika and Väike-Ameerika (see maps below), used as a youth sports field, has already been encroached upon by the expanded super-ministry building, erected on the site of the old finance ministry, to the east, and an apartment complex to the west.
The City of Tallinn has pledged to create new green areas in nearby Koidu tänav to make up for the construction, and also plan to extend Virmalise tänav, which approaches from the south and intersects with Väike-Ameerika.
Construction of the planned embassy building has reached the point where detailed planning tasks and drawings have been discussed, and preparing the actual plan, which is being handled by the embassy, will start.
Local residents have been consulted and contributions as well as objections have been received.
A U.S. Embassy spokesperson told ERR that some of the residents' suggestions have already been taken into account, including making improvements to the sidewalks in the vicinity, some of which could fairly be described as dilapidated, and resolving issues relating to shade cast by the new buildings, once erected, and which may impose on some neighboring properties.
The Uus Maailm local residents' society has also presented its objections ahead of the preparation of the detailed plan, where, among other things, it is stated that the organization: "Will not be in support of the detailed plan until clear agreement is reached on how the green space to be lost, with the disappearance of the youth sports field, will be compensated for, to the residents of the settlement".
Deputy Mayor of Tallinn Madle Lippus (SDE) told ERR that there is some commonality between the views of the city and those of local residents, namely the neighborhood's green areas, and improvement to the quality of local street space. Prior to handing over the former youth stadium to the state, the City of Tallinn's vision had been for a green area and recreation areas, serving the district.
"A spacious green area holds a distinctive value, but now it will be built upon. Now we need to find new green areas, where people can go to instead. One important direction we will take is to improve the quality of the existing green areas in the area. Second, we will plan additional green areas, insofar as is possible to do in that area," Lippus went on.
According to Lippus, the largest green area in the region, Koidu park, is oversubscribed, so the city is now looking around the district, to see which other green areas might be put to public use.
"Koidu park is overcrowded, so overcrowded. The use of additional green areas is also needed in any case. Forecasts show that there will continue to be the same large numbers of young people in the area, and we have to consider how to provide them with activities in those green areas," Lippus went on.
U.S. Embassy spokesperson Mark Naylor said several proposals to create new public green spaces or improve existing green spaces in the area have been received already. "We will continue to work with representatives of the City of Tallinn, as well as the local community, to find out the possibilities for cooperation on this matter," Naylor said.
Tallinn wants a right of way between the 'super-ministry' and the planned embassy
Tallinn says it is important the embassy detailed plan allows for a public right of way between the embassy's property and the super-ministry, meaning an extension of the existing Virmalise tänav, whereby the nearby Tuvi park can also be accessed. The Uus Mailm residents' society says it, too, would like this feature.
Madle Lippus said: "Since the area originally set out as a green zone is to be built up, the condition was that this would not obstruct local residents' routes of movement too much. Tuvi park is located close to Uus Maailm but is difficult to access, whereas if it were possible to extend Vermalise tänav, from Väike-Amerika to Suur-Amerika, this would significantly improve access," adding that an obstacle from the state's perspective was the possible relocation of the Ministry of the Interior into the super-ministry building.
This would have made the security requirements at the super-ministry more stringent than they already are, in addition to the U.S. Embassy's security needs.
The super-ministry building currently houses the finance, economic affairs, social affairs and justice ministries.
In any case, this concern has evaporated now, since the government decided at the end of last year that the interior ministry move will not go ahead, not at least to the super-ministry site.
The U.S. Embassy for its part says that negotiations are ongoing, adding some details may become sticking points.
Spokesperson Mark Naylor added that: "There are some technical limitations that may affect the construction of the [Virmalise] road, including reconfiguration of access for VIP vehicles to the ministry building and to the service road. We will continue to discuss possible adjustments, and whether this road extension will be feasible."
Suur-Ameerika and Väike-Ameerika likely to be rebuilt
Another concern is the street space, and how to improve its quality; an architectural competition is being organized in respect of the reconstruction of Koidu tänav. This is somewhat of a response to the Uus Maailm society, which had demanded from the City of Tallinn, in exchange for relinquishing a large green area, among other things, the rebuild.
The city also has plans for the appropriately-named Suur-Ameerika and Väike-Ameerika streets, which as noted will delineate the embassy plot to the north and south.
Madle Lippus said: "This is part of the negotiations (with the embassy). It would be logical that these streets should be taken into consideration in this process. It is certainly particularly important to improve the quality of the public space on Väike-Ameerika, because the reduction of green space is perceived to be the more extensive there."
The possible and quite likely redevelopment of Suur-Amerrika may take more time, as it also depends on the city's plans for new tram lines. A Liivala-Suur-Ameerika-Kristiine route is one of the lines that the city is planning, while the time its construction will take depends on when a large public transport terminal, or hub , can be built near the Kristiine intersection, Lippus. Added. "However, we have it planned; simply the precise schedule has not been established yet," she said.
The embassy in the New World has no plans to close any streets, as happened with Kentmanni Street.
One difference between the planned new embassy and the existing U.S. Embassy on Kentmanni tänav is that no section of the street will be closed to traffic. A stretch of Kentmanni running past the main entrance to the current U.S. Embassy is closed-off to traffic, via bollards, though is open to pedestrians.
Lippus said: "There is no request from the embassy to narrow the street space or to prevent any kind of movement. Instead, we are discussing how to improve the quality of the existing street space. This is actually also in the interests of the embassy itself. However, one issue is security fencing that will encircle the embassy building; local residents have said that they do not want the area to resemble a prison or a citadel of some kind. In other words, how the fencing will be set up so that it can be utilized in a variety of ways, so that the area interfaces with the urban space. It seems to me that we are having constructive dialogue with the embassy, in full progress, in this regard as well."
Analysis shows that the required norms in respect of how much sunlight can reach windows of residential buildings nearby are also guaranteed in the planning, Lippus said.
Embassy building may be completed in 2030
Now that the public consultation on the draft planning has been held, along with the initial tasks, the U.S. Embassy is to start preparing a detailed plan. When the actual construction starts depends on how the planning process progresses, Naylor said.
"At the current stage, we hope to move to the design phase and to sign a construction contract by mid-2026. If that comes to pass, construction is expected to start in 2027, with a view to being completed in 2030," she went on.
The embassy plans foresee a main building, with two underground levels and up to nine floors above ground, plus seven smaller buildings located around the main building, all inside the plot set aside.
The main building will be no higher than 45 meters, under the plans.
The official entrance for visitors and dignitaries is planned from Suur-Ameerika, while service personnel vehicles will enter from Väike-Ameerika.
Tallinn started detailed planning last December . The proposal to initiate detailed planning was submitted by OÜ Esplan in December 2021, at the direction of Estonia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Last November, the Tallinn City Planning Board, the U.S. authorities and Esplan signed an administrative agreement for the preparation of the detailed plan.
In the summer of 2020, the Tallinn City Council transferred the property located at Suur-Ameerika 3/Vaike- Ameerika 4 to the state. At that time, Estonia and the U.S. signed a diplomatic purchase and sale agreement. At that time, the value of the property was estimated at six million euros.
The size of the plot is 14,881 square meters and is located behind the super-ministry complex.
Residential buildings surround the embassy from Väike-Ameerika and Toom-Kuninga streets; apartment buildings are also planned for the plot between Suur-Ameerika and Tuvi park, a zone currently used as a parking lot.
Editor: Andrew Whyte