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Regulator rules out flat and office construction in Moscow park

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MOSCOW, August 10 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's environmental regulator gave reassurances Friday that no housing or office blocks would be built in the capital's landmark Gorky Park, and rejected media claims to that effect.

Business daily Kommersant, citing a source close to the Moscow government, said that the 100-hectare (250-acre) recreational park in the city center would be privatized and allotted for the construction of elite housing and office space.

"I believe that with the continuous growth in the population [of Moscow], green areas of the city are becoming increasingly important, and naturally Rosprirodnadzor will do everything to ensure that if attempts are made to build over Gorky Park, such outrages will be stopped," Oleg Mitvol said.

The Moscow government's property department declined to comment on the issue.

The value of the park's territory by the Moskva River is estimated by realtors at $1 billion. The paper said that apartments and offices in the area could be worth a minimum of $20,000 and $10,000 per sq meter respectively.

Sources quoted by the daily said the City Hall was considering privatizing the land to finance the construction of a music hall, a small hotel, and an underground parking lot planned for the park, as attractions were not a popular investment option.

"We must join forces to make sure this never happens, otherwise we will be committing a crime against our children," Mitvol said.

A senior member of the city legislature admitted that there were plans to privatize Gorky Park, but ruled out housing construction.

"The city will never allow the construction of housing, elite or ordinary, in our park," said Andrei Metelsky, a Moscow Duma deputy speaker and a member of the pro-Kremlin United Russia Party.

The head of the Russian Society for the Protection of Monuments of History and Culture, Galina Malanicheva, criticized the plans, saying the "commercialization" of monuments of culture were always damaging to landmarks and to people.

Gorky Park, opened in early Soviet times, has often featured in popular culture. The park provides the title for a Martin Cruz Smith novel and a movie of the same name, as is mentioned in the power ballad "Wind of Change" by German rock band The Scorpions, a huge hit in Russia at the time of the fall of Communism, the song's theme. The park is popular for its giant Ferris wheel, roller coaster, open-air theater, rock club, and a mockup of the Buran space shuttle.

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