Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Heritage building or high-rise?

Let's take a look at the heart of Warsaw's Central Business District. Here's ul. Emilii Plater (below), looking north towards the Cosmopolitan building under construction at the north end. In the foreground, the Intercontinental Hotel, with its characteristic cut-out that lets sunlight through to the flats behind it. Further on down the road, the Warsaw Financial Center. To the left, Rondo ONZ 1.

In between all this high-risery, we have a two-story, state-owned furniture shop, Emilia. Well, 'state-owned' for the time being, for the Ministry for the State Treasury is selling it off. The Capital City Enterprise for Internal Commerce 'Furniture Emilia' (Stołeczne Przedsiębiorstwo Handlu Wewnętrznego 'Meble Emilia') is finally being privatised after nearly 23 years of market democracy (can you imagine a chain of stores called 'London Furniture' owned by the British state and competing with Ikea and MFI?). The store itself has shut down and moved on, but the building is currently and temporarily housing the Museum of Modern Art (Muzeum Sztuki Nowoczesnej).

So here it is in close-up (below). There is a buyer - Griffin Investments, which has agreed to pay the Polish state treasury 115m zlotys, nearly £60m, for 11 Emilia stores with over 11,000 square metres of showroom space. Of course, what Griffin is really buying is this prime site on Emilii Plater.

Except there's one tiny problem. While the state treasury was auctioning off its chain of furniture shops, Warsaw's heritage buildings conservator had the given the Emilia store listed building status. And failed to inform its owner, the Ministry of the State Treasury. Who then sold it onto an investor, who was under the impression that Emilia could be knocked down and replaced with another 40+ story skyscraper.

It's things like this that give Poland a bad name when it comes to attracting foreign investment. One public sector body not informing another one of something as fundamental as listing a building that's up for sale. This is another scandalous example of a dysfunctional public sector that hampers foreign investment and costs Polish jobs as a result. A point I made in the Polish parliament today (at a meeting of the Polish-British Parliamentary Group).

Now, as to the actual Emilia building itself, I have a soft spot for it (see here and here), but what I'd really like to see is Stalin's Gift to the Polish People's Republic (right) ringed by a circle of high-rise buildings.

Don't demolish it, but reduce its significance to Warsaw's skyline. Replacing Emilia with another tower would help.

What's likely to happen, however, is another five-year stalemate in the Polish court system, angry investors, a bad press for Poland and a missed opportunity. I hope I'm wrong.

Today, Warsaw enjoyed temperatures topping 24C. Gloriously blue skies, warmth continuing into the late evening. (Just thought you'd like to know that, UK readers!)

This time last year:
Shopping notes

This time two years ago:
My grandfather

This time four years ago:
Surreal twilight, ul.Karczunkowska

This time five years ago:
From Warsaw to Seville, via Munich and Madrid


Anonymous said...

Nice post as always.

I would suggest that the government simply give the Emilia building to the Museum of Modern Art with the caveat that it be used as the new museum and cannot be sold on.

There is been great debate as to how to establish this museum. Given that there 'is no money' to do so. This would provide a good, immediate and cheap solution.


AndrzejK said...

Having spent 22 days in hospital I can say that the principle of information flow by osmosis applies in all areas of the Polish equivalent of Sir Humphrey's (Yes Minister) empire. The only reason I spent 22 days in hospital was the fact that every three days I had blood samples taken by the phlebotomist (a new word I learnt from an excellent lean management guide to hospital procedures) and a couple of USG scans and gastroscopy as well as a nurse ensuring I took the prescribed drugs. I could have stayed at home and come in as an in patient but this would require a "skierowanie" from the family doctor each time. And more importantly the practise would be charged with the cost of the precedures. However staying in hospital the treatments are covered from the hospitals budget (including the fact that the drugs are completely free rather than subject to partial "refundacja". Now you would think that someone from the Ministry of Finance would take note that paying for an unnecessary extended holiday on the NFZ is a complete waste of recources and have liaised with the Health Ministry to change procedures. But no this will not do.... Incidentally I have nothing but praise for the dedicated team of doctors, specialists and nurses who do a tremedous job. It does help of course to apply a British degree of sense of humour and the words "I am very sorry to trouble you but if you have a moment could you ........." rather than the brusque manner adopted by most patients and their spouses. And the osmosis priciple applies on transfers between hospitals and hospital departments where notes have to be rewritten!!!
A clear case for privatising delivery and making civil servants liable for the effects of their indolence.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Andrzej K - hope you recover fully and quickly. And join the BPCC's Healthcare policy group to brainstorm how best IT can be implemented into the Polish system to improve its functioning...

@ Bob - a rare case of disagreement with you here! Much as I appreciated the angular aluminium and 60s futurism replete with space-age promise, I don't think its the right location... MoMA on Wall Street?