Cultural endowment not enough for Linnahall facelift, up to politicians

The Linnahall, during
The Linnahall, during "Tenet" filming in July. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

While the future of the Linnahall development is ultimately down to the European Commission and any possible aid which would make its redevelopment possible, the form the development would take and its time-frame depends on the domestic government, according to a report on ETV current affairs show Aktuaalne kaamera on Friday evening.

The Linnahall was opened in 1980 in time for the Moscow Summer Olympics, when Tallinn hosted most water-based events like sailing. Originally called the V.I. Lenin Palace of Culture and Sports, and designed by Estonian architects Raine Karp and  Riina Altmäe, the Linnahall is a prime example of later Soviet brutalism-type architecture, mirrored by the National Library building (which had the same architects) on Tõnismägi in Tallinn, as well as the post office on Narva maantee prior to its redevelopment in the early 2010s.

It has had a chequered existence during its 40-year lifespan so far, going from a large entertainment complex boasting an ice rink, concert hall (the last major production hosted there was the musical "Grease", around 15 years ago) and other amenities, to being a rather dilapidated curiosity, and until relatively recently the departure point for the now-defunct Copterline and Linda Line transport links to Helsinki.

It was also used as a filming location in the summer for the forthcoming Hollywood thriller "Tenet", directed by Christopher Nolan.

While the surrounding area has seen large-scale redevelopment since independence, the Linnahall has thus remained in something of a time-warp.

It's external deficiencies, with crumbling masonry and graffiti, are obvious even to laypersons' eyes.

Various Linnahall projects have been touted over the years since its halcyon days, including at least one involving large-scale foreign investment, but nothing has yet come to fruition.

While the Estonian government supports the transformation of the site into a concert hall and conference center, the issue of funding remains. However, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas has said a decision on the Linnahall is likely to be made in the near future. Credence for Ratas' statements comes from National Opera House (Rahvusooper) director Aivar Mäe, who said the funding might well come from the Cultural Endowment, a fund arising partly from the proceeds of alcohol, tobacco, and gambling taxes, which is independent of the state budget.

The National Opera is not the only organization interested in the Linnahall; the State Symphony Orchestra (ERSO) is also on the hunt for a concert hall, according to the piece.

However, discussions have been so lengthy over the past 15 years that they are as much noteworthy for what they have not achieved, as for what they have.

Speaking to Aktuaalne kaamera's Janet Õunapuu, Anu Liinsoo, board chair of Tallinna Linnahalli AS, the company behind the Linnahall, said she hopes that she will not have to wait another 15 years for concrete developments. 

Liinsoo noted that the decisions were purely political, noting that if one gets made, it will still take five years for the project to become reality.

She also pointed out some advantages the Linnahall has as a potential redeveloped concert house, versus the existing National Opera House on Estonia puiestee.

"The National Opera House requires much larger-scale reconstruction work; it needs a higher stage tower and a much larger stage depth [than currently exists]. But since that building and its concert hall are under heritage protection, this would also require quite thorough negotiations with the Heritage Protection Board (Muinsuskaitseamet)," Liinsoo said.

"Whereas the initial plan is to invest between €113 million and €115 million, the construction of the National Opera will certainly be significantly more expensive."

Commenting on other finance options including the cultural endowment, and the private sector, Liinsoo said this was up in the air as well.

"There are no specific interested parties as of today," she said.

"The plan and all the calculations demonstrate that the initial investment must derive from the public sector, with a view to handing it over to a private sector operator in due course," Liinsoo added.

However, the Cultural Endowment is insufficient on its own to be used for the Linnahall makeover, at least in the short- to medium-term, even if it were not already being used for other projects.

The Cultural Endowment has already been used for two existing projects: the Estonian National Museum in Tartu, which opened last year, and the new Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre (EAMT) concert hall opened last Saturday. This means the endowment is being drawn on down to 2023.

"It (the Cultural Endowment-ed.) doesn't come at the expense of our subsidies, it's a separate fund. It amounts to €8 million per year, and considering the Linnahall redevelopment would cost €120 million to €200 million, to fund it purely from the endowment would take a very, very long time," said Kertu Saks, Cultural Endowment manager.

ERSO director Kristian Hallik hinted to ERR's Johannes Tralla, also on Friday's Aktuaalne kaamera, that the Linnahall hosting both it and the National Opera could happen, though this was down to the architects. He also stressed a cultural center for all as being desirable, rather than some sort of elitist sanctuary.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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