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City Hall aims to revitalize PKO

Anyone raised in Bratislava in the 1960s, 70s, or 80s probably has fond memories of Friday night dances and Saturday chess tournaments held in the once-vibrant exhibition grounds along the Danube's left bank known as PKO - the Park for Culture and Recreation. But PKO's prime passed when the Incheba exhibition-organizing company moved across the river to its new fairgrounds at the beginning of the 1990s.
Now Bratislava City Hall intends to renovate the PKO auditoriums and develop the 23,849-square-meter tract of land extending eastward toward the Botel Fairway. The city will do this through a new joint stock company it wholly owns called the Trade and Cultural Center (OSC). The city's plans for the land - which together with old buildings is valued at 118.6 million Sk ($3.6 million) - are ambitious.

Anyone raised in Bratislava in the 1960s, 70s, or 80s probably has fond memories of Friday night dances and Saturday chess tournaments held in the once-vibrant exhibition grounds along the Danube's left bank known as PKO - the Park for Culture and Recreation. But PKO's prime passed when the Incheba exhibition-organizing company moved across the river to its new fairgrounds at the beginning of the 1990s.

Now Bratislava City Hall intends to renovate the PKO auditoriums and develop the 23,849-square-meter tract of land extending eastward toward the Botel Fairway. The city will do this through a new joint stock company it wholly owns called the Trade and Cultural Center (OSC).

The city's plans for the land - which together with old buildings is valued at 118.6 million Sk ($3.6 million) - are ambitious. A design by local architect Peter Vršanský calls for the construction of a new conference hall, a restaurant, offices, parking spaces, a hotel, and possible top-standard apartments, according to the mayor's spokesman, Milan Vajda.

Through this project, the city will continue to bear the responsibility of organizing cultural and social events on PKO's premises, although Vajda said that City Hall "does not want to meddle" in the far more lucrative trade fairs and conventions market on which PKO lived in the past.

"After Incheba's move, PKO was in very bad shape financially," Vajda said, explaining the difference in profitability between cultural and industrial events. "PKO lost events it may not have been as proud of, but they brought money."

The riverbank complex is one of about 20 projects that will be financed from the $65 million bond issue the city organized in cooperation with the Japanese investment bank Nomura in December 1995. Vajda said other shareholders may enter the company, but the city will retain its majority stake.

According to Vajda, Mayor Peter Kresánek, an architecture historian, views PKO as "a typical socialist structure," which makes him far less nostalgic about the place than some city council members.

Given this view, why is Kresánek's administration willing to preside over this expenditure of money and energy? Well, next year is an election year. And, as Vajda said, "We understand a generation was raised in PKO."

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