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Group behind Amos Rex museum to buy rest of 'Glass Palace' from Helsinki

Millions were spent renovating the once-threatened landmark, which is now home to one of the city's most popular museums.

Aamos Rex taidemuseo ilmakuva
Aerial photo of Helsinki's Lasipalatsi on Mannerheimintie. Image: Jaani Lampinen / YLE

Helsinki city councillors approved that the city sell off its remaining shares in the downtown landmark building Lasipalatsi ('Glass Palace') to a subsidiary of Konstsamfundet, an art foundation which operates the modern art museum Amos Rex at the site.

Because the price tag for the remaining roughly 30 percent of the shares is so steep - about 33.5 million euros - transfer of the property still needs approval from the city board.

It is expected to consider the matter in August at the latest, and will likely approve the sale, according to council member Marcus Rantala.

"Due to the fact that there's such a large majority of city councillors on the board, it looks like the decision will be approved by a large majority in August," Rantala said after the council made its decision on Monday.

"Additionally, this is a logical decision in light of the city's strategy to sell off properties it doesn't need or that don't have strategic importance," he continued.

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Amos Rex -museoon jono
Long queues prevailed for months after Amos Rex museum opened its doors in 2018. Image: Jouni Immonen / Yle
The city currently owns 30.85 percent of Lasipalatsi while the art foundation's subsidiary Mercator Real Estate owns the remaining 69.15 percent. If the sale goes through, Mercator would have sole ownership of the historic building.

Föreningen Konstsamfundet (roughly: the Art Foundation Association) supports cultural efforts of Finland's Swedish-speaking minority.

Foundation CEO Stefan Björkman said buying the remainder of the shares in the building was a natural progression.

"[The foundation] has invested 50 million euros in the construction of Amos Rex and the re-building of Lasipalatsi. As the property's main owner, we have carried the responsibility for development of the structure. In this situation it's natural that we should buy the city's minority share. Our goal is to make Lasipalatsi into an even more important meeting place for art and city culture," Björkman said in a city press release earlier this month.

Glass Palace history

Construction of Lasipalatsi (Glaspalatset in Swedish) was completed in 1935, first serving as an office building in the heart of downtown Helsinki. In addition to the wildly popular Amos Rex museum, the sprawling structure became home to several restaurants, cafes, shops and an historic cinema, Bio Rex.

When it first opened, the movie theatre was among the largest in the city and hosted many Finnish film premieres over the decades. However the structure fell into disrepair and as recently as the 1980s, there were controversial plans to tear it down.

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Glaspalatset i Helsingfors, 7.1.2016.
Aerial photo of Lasipalatsi in winter 2016, before renovations of the sprawling structure began. Image: Yle/Petter West
But toward the end of the last millennium the building was reborn, given protected status by the Finnish Heritage Agency and repaired. Several businesses, cafes and restaurants moved in, and even became home to Yle's morning show Aamu-tv for several years, with hosts sitting by the large storefront-style windows, giving viewers glimpses of pedestrians and cars along the city's main thoroughfare Mannerheimintie in the background.

The building went under major renovation in 2016 and the modern art museum Amos Rex opened its doors in 2018.

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