Gazprom tower to dwarf old St Petersburg

Gazprom and some of its subsidiaries will soon have a new home in Russia’s northern capital of St. Petersburg. The new 396-metre Okhta Center will be among the tallest buildings in the world.

However the scale of the tower has prompted fears among city residents that it will ruin St. Petersburg's traditionally low-rise skyline.

The Okhta Center will occupy one million square metres, with construction costs of $US 2.5 billion divided between Gazprom and the City administration.

It will house the headquarters of GazpromNeft and other Gazprom subsidiaries. A number of other businesses are expected to follow suit. Projects like this are underlining St. Petersburg's commitment to becoming a corporate headquarters location for Russia.

The head of the Okhta Center, Nikolay Tanaev, says it will be divided into three zones. The first, around 16, will be occupied by Gazprom offices, the other two will be given to business centres and social infrastructure.

“I am sure it will attract more international companies to St. Petersburg and develop its business environment,” Tanaev said.

The international design director of RMJM, Tony Kettle, which has won the tender to build the centre, said the tower will complement the skyline and preserve the city's historic values

“If you are in the centre of St. Petersburg, I do not think that you will be aware of the development. We have done extensive vision assessments to find out how apparent the project will be,” Kettle said.

However, the chairman of St. Petersburg's Union of Architects, Vladimir Popov, says it will spoil the historical appearance of St. Petersburg, dominating a skyline in a city listed as a world heritage site.

“The skyline of St. Petersburg plays an important role in the image of the whole city. The city is horizontal with all of its buildings and this was kept for hundreds of years,” Popov said.

Currently public hearings are planned on the construction timetable and land survey. And the city administration plans to meet with UNESCO representatives to ease their concerns.

Some analysts doubt that such buildings will bring more business to St. Petersburg.  But with many of the city's old industrial areas in dire need of regeneration, the city administration is hoping that projects like this will bring fresh investment.