Even as the Cultural Endowment of Estonia and the Ministry of Culture deem the proposed Kreenholm cultural quarter in Narva a questionable project, stalled or not, promoter Jaanus Mikk and Narva Mayor Katri Raik (SDE) have no intentions of backing down from it.
"We really need to look at what those resources are or where those resources are that we have the opportunity to use, and to use that money wisely — so that it doesn't just sit around and wait for the construction of some object to begin, but rather that everything gets built that's been promised," Minister of Culture Heidy Purga (Reform) said in an interview with ERR on Wednesday, speaking about cultural objects of national importance funded from the Cultural Endowment.
The stalled project Purga was referring to was a cultural center planned to be built in the old Kreenholm textile factory in Narva.
"There are some questionable projects in there too," she said. "What I mean right now is Narva's Kreenholm cultural quarter, whose commercial objectives or substance or program are perhaps difficult today because we've terminated cultural relations with Russia and the borders are closed."
Cultural Endowment director Margus Allikmaa confirmed that he has indeed discussed the Narva project with the culture minister in the framework of mapping out cultural buildings of national importance.
One of the cornerstones of the proposed Narva project, Allikmaa explained, was the fact that the region is indeed home 14 million residents, and that is where the visitor numbers would come from that would definitely help cover costs in the future.
"And that was also the justification for establishing a cultural aspect there," he added. "Attendance paying off has since been ruled out, and it's likely no one can say when it will recover."
The endowment director explained that one of the key conditions, or understandings, involved in adding the Kreenholm cultural quarter to Estonia's list of naturally important cultural objects was also the establishment of a three-part foundation by the Ministry of Culture, Narva city government and the private owner, the Swedish investor-owned company Golden Gate, to whom the Kreenholm property in question belongs.
He said that this would have ensured the protection of the state's investment, which would have justified the addition of the cultural quarter to the country's list of cultural buildings of national importance, but that to date, Narva has not been willing to take the step of establishing this foundation, which is why everything has stalled since.
Allikmaa acknowledged that times and circumstances change, and that ultimately it's also possible to develop a new business plan that would justify the project's qualification as a cultural object of national importance.
Developer: State supposed to take on cultural side of development
According to developers, a new business plan is precisely what they're currently working on, and that rapid progress is currently only being held back by city council decisions.
"One of our goals was to serve as a bridge in the cultural exchange between Russia and Europe, but that was never our biggest goal," said Jaanus Mikk, director of Kreenholm real estate manager Narva Gate OÜ.
Narva Gate is currently in talks with the city to get two of Narva's cultural institutions to relocate to the complex — its art school and its music school. Mikk said that they're currently conducting a feasibility study, as needed by the city but noted that the schools would fight right into the cultural quarter, and should the city council sign off on it, they will be relocated there.
"We have a good faith agreement signed between the state and the city and Narva Gate, and right now the minister of culture hasn't told me anything otherwise," he noted.
According to Mikk, the good faith agreement stipulates that the owners of the property would pay for 50 percent of the development of the Kreenholm site, but that the state or then the foundation to be established would take on the cultural development.
He said that neither Russia's proximity nor growing construction prices have put the property's Swedish owners off from this development idea, noting that at one point the owners had even issued a letter of guarantee stating they were willing to contribute money to the project and adding that they haven't backed down from their decision.
Heart of future capital of culture bid
The mayor of Narva likewise agrees that the cultural quarter is needed — both by the city and by Estonia — and that the city likewise doesn't intend to back down from this development idea.
"It's a Riigikogu decision to support the establishment of the cultural quarter in Narva; minister isn't authorized to change the corresponding list," Raik pointed out.
"Narva's ambition is to run for the title of European Capital of Culture in 2037," she continued. "Kreenholm and the cultural quarter are going to be the physical heart of that project."
She added that Narva certainly has not just the desire but also the capacity now to serve as capital of culture, thanks to good partners like the state.
"Narva's cultural life has changed beyond recognition in recent years," Raik acknowledged, saying that the days of there only being one concert held in the northeastern border city a week — and on a Thursday — are firmly over.
"Now you have to choose [what to attend], and that's a very good thing," she highlighted. "Such a big leap has been possible with the support of the state; we're grateful for that."
Editor: Aili Vahtla