CRITICISED for its heavily-secured perimeter that encroaches on a prominent, central square, the US Embassy in Bratislava plans to move from a building it has owned for decades to a newly-built facility in several years.

The US Department of State announced on May 20 its decision to construct a new embassy in Bratislava, citing the need to provide a modern, open and secure American diplomatic facility. The decision to build a new facility came about because the security perimeter of the current US Embassy building does not meet Department of State standards mandated by the US Congress, the embassy stated in an official press release.

“We will be sorry to leave Hviezdoslavovo Námestie,” said Ambassador Theodore Sedgwick. “The embassy has had a long and proud history at its current location, especially as a beacon of hope and freedom throughout the dark days of communism. However, the State Department makes security its number one priority.”

The current embassy building was originally purchased in 1948 and formally reopened as a Consulate General in May 1991, to become an embassy in January 1993, according to the press release.

Pressure to remove the fence, which was erected as a security requirement on the heels of 9/11, the worst terrorist attacks in the history of the US, has intensified ahead of the municipal elections taking place this autumn, with the municipal council being reluctant to extend the lease for the land under the area of the fence.

Bratislava Mayor Milan Ftáčnik and mayor of Bratislava’s Staré Mesto district Tatiana Rosová welcome the Americans’ decision.

Although the move is not expected to happen sooner than five to six years’ time, the decision comes as good news to many Bratislava residents who have been critical of the US Embassy’s location, whose security measures include a fenced-off area stretching around the building’s perimeter that extends into the historical Hviezdoslavovo Square and nearby Paulínyho Street, which has been closed to traffic.

Municipal council deputies recently discussed the issue with Ambassador Sedgwick and are scheduled to bring it up again at their May 22 session, the Sme daily reported.

“The decision-making of the deputies will be much easier now, since the proposed prolongation of the conditions to keep the fence will be definitive and the fence will become history after more than a decade,” Bratislava Mayor’s Office head Ľubomír Andrassy said, as quoted by Sme.

Rosová, one of the main critics of the fence on the historical square, insists that five years is a long time and therefore the council should condition prolonging the embassy’s rental contract with specific steps to show that construction of a new building is underway. She said she will propose requiring the embassy to declare ownership of the plot or building it will move to, Sme wrote.

The first step in the process of building a new embassy in Bratislava is to locate and procure a suitable site, which typically requires two years or more, according to the embassy’s press release. Designing and constructing the new building is likely to take another three to five years.

“The State Department will send a planning team to Bratislava in the coming months to meet with local officials and real estate professionals in order to begin the process,” the embassy stated.