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City councillors approve zoning changes for planned Helsinki Garden arena

Plans for the privately-funded project include a 14,000-seat arena, apartments and commercial space.

Helsinki Garden havainnekuva
Composite illustration of aerial view of the planned Helsinki Garden. Image: Arkkitehtuuritoimisto B & M Oy

Helsinki city councillors have approved plans to construct the Garden, a massive arena and shopping hall in the Taka-Töölö district.

At a vote of 70-12 on Wednesday evening, councillors approved zoning changes for the project to go forward.

The sprawling, v-shaped building is planned be constructed next to the city's Ice Hall along a major stretch of Nordenskiöldinkatu.

The real-estate project, which is privately funded, is also set to include apartments, a hotel and storefront spaces.

As currently planned, Helsinki Garden's indoor arena will have a seating capacity for 11,000 to 16,000 people and will become the new home of local ice hockey team Helsinki IFK, the firm which initiated the project. Most of the facility's event centre will be located underground.

The city's appointed project manager of Garden Helsinki, Ilkka Kilpimaa, said the effort was widely seen as the hockey team's but that it is more than that, saying it would become a place which would enrich the everyday lives of residents.

"The events held there will bring tourists and money to Helsinki," he said on Wednesday.

The facility is set to be placed right next to two other major sports and events arenas, including the Bolt Arena - named the Telia 5G arena - (capacity 10,770) as well as the Olympic Stadium (expected capacity following ongoing renovations 36,000).

When and if it is built as planned, the Garden will also neighbour the city's old Ice Hall (capacity 8,200) and the nearly 60-year-old hall will be incorporated into the new facility, according to Kilpimaa.

Story continues after photo.

Havainnekuva Helsinki Garden -areenasta Reijolankadun suunnalta.
Helsinki's old Ice Hall (on right) was built in 1966, and will be incorporated into the Garden by an adjoining wall, according to current plans. Image: Arkkitehtuuritoimisto B & M Oy

Project faces opposition

However, the Garden project has faced criticism for being too large for the surrounding area.

Both the Finnish Heritage Agency and the Association of Architects have opposed the project because of its size, saying that such a multifunctional facility does not fit into the milieu of the surrounding area.

Pointing to the opinion of the heritage agency, Left Alliance councillor Anna Vuorjoki said that the city needs to boost its vitality but not at any cost.

"This project would bring a huge building into an environment that is simply not suitable for it," she said, noting that the city's comforts, as well as its cultural and historical aspects need to be safeguarded.

However, conservative National Coalition Party councillor Risto Rautavaara said the city was justified in selling land for the project.

"This will bring a lot of new opportunities for city residents as [hockey] ice times increase and leisure time activity possibilities expand," Rautavaara said.

Greens councillor Anni Sinnemäki said it is good that the planned event centre is to be privately funded.

"Tax money can [instead] be used, for example, towards schools and health care," Sinnemäki said.

Helsinki Garden -areena muuttaa suunnitelmien mukaan näkymää Nordenskiöldinkadulta Olympiastadionin suuntaan.
Helsinki's Olympic Stadium can be seen through the Garden's archway in this architect's illustration. Image: Arkkitehtuuritoimisto B & M Oy

Privately funded, but questions remain

Garden project manager Kilpimaa said details about the funding of the project would be revealed later.

The firm slated to build the Garden, Helsinki-based construction giant YIT, has also played a significant role in development across the city. YIT constructed the recently-opened Tripla shopping mall and residential towers in Pasila, to the tune of about one billion euros.

However, even though councillors approved the zoning changes, the project is still subject to a period of complaint, which makes it difficult to estimate when construction will take place.

Kilpimaa said he expects the complaint period take up to a year to complete. He said the building's planned size has been scaled down following consultation with the heritage agency.

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