Controversial Budapest skyscraper approved by Fidesz with no consultation

Budapest’s historic skyline is about to change dramatically, with the Fidesz-controlled General Assembly of the Hungarian capital approving a 120-meter high skyscraper, even though all opposition parties expressed concern about the lack of consultation and the lack of time to review the plans before the motion was rushed through council. The Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) suggested that investors close to Fidesz may turn a very handsome profit on the development, which explains the lack of consultation and time to review the proposal.

Opposition municipal councilors received the forty-page final proposal Wednesday morning, mere hours before a motion on zoning and allowing for the project to proceed was put up for a vote. The skyscraper project is spearheaded by business interests tied to Hungarian entrepreneur István Garancsi, owner of the Videoton Football Club, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s favourite domestic football (soccer) team. In 2015, Mr. Garancsi’s firm–Market Építő Zrt–was also chosen by the Hungarian National Asset Management Inc. to construct the new Dagály Swimming Complex, in time for the 2017 FINA World Championships, hosted by Budapest. The project is valued at over 38 billion forints ($130 million) and the state-owned firm awarded the contract without going through a public tender process.

István Garancsi watching a football (soccer) game with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in 2015. Photo: MTI.

István Garancsi watching a football (soccer) game with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in 2015. Photo: MTI.

On December 7, 2016, the General Assembly of Budapest rushed through a motion that allows for the construction of the 120-meter high skyscraper on the banks of the Danube, despite height restrictions in place to protect the integrity of the Budapest panorama, considered a World Heritage site. In fact, Budapest’s Urban Development Committee opposed the project, agreeing with written opposition from the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). Katalin Korompay, the head architect at the Foundation for Budapest World Heritage, also opposed the plan, noting that the skyscraper would disrupt the capital’s heritage panorama.

Mr. Garancsi’s company used a 16.5 billion forint loan from the state-owned Eximbank to purchase a 54-hectare property located in Budapest’s 11th District, along the south Buda side of the Danube, which will serve as the home for a major property development involving not only the 120-meter high skyscraper (around double the current height restriction), but several other modern high-rise buildings too. The project, named Buda Part, presents the development as a new neighbourhood in Budapest, complete with apartments, offices, retail space, sports facilities, a kindergarten and a hotel.

The 120-meter skyscraper approved for the banks of the Danube. Photo> BudaPart.hu.

The 120-meter skyscraper approved for the banks of the Danube. Photo: BudaPart.hu.

The Buda Part project, now approved, with the 120-meter skyscraper and other planned buildings.

The Buda Part project, now approved, with the 120-meter skyscraper and other planned buildings to the left. Photo: BudaPart.hu

Balázs Szeneczey, Budapest’s Deputy Mayor, presented the motion to modify height restrictions and allow for the skyscraper. Marcell Tokody, a city councilor affiliated with Jobbik, complained that he had no time to review the 40-page document this morning, before it was put up for a vote hours later. Csaba Horváth, az MSZP councilor, observed that the new skyscraper will alter and possibly ruin the Budapest skyline for the next hundred years, yet the decision went forward without real consultation. Mr. Horváth noted that he is not by default opposed to the development of highrise structures in Budapest and a previous MSZP administration in Budapest’s 11th District had worked on a proposed skyscraper in the same area; although those plans called for a 55-meter high building–less than half of what was approved by the General Assembly on Wednesday.

The Politics Can Be Different green party (LMP) expressed concern that the new neighbourhood would attract 40,000 people each day, yet public transit in the area remains underdeveloped.

Even Fidesz district mayor Levente Riz, who chairs the city’s urban development committee, supported re-thinking and revising the proposed development–which probably explains why he had to leave Wednesday’s General Assembly session right before the vote to approve the project.

The liberal 444.hu news site, which has been critical of the project, sarcastically referred to the skyscraper as the Burj Garancsi, in reference to Dubai’s Burj Khalifa and the Hungarian businessman, seemingly very close to the Fidesz government, who is behind the project that was just rushed through the municipal government with lightning speed.

6 Comments

  1. Dear Christopher Adam,
    Thanks for the interesting article about the proposed Budapest skyscraper. One, perhaps relatively small thing, caught my attention with reference to the location, namely “on the banks of the Danube, despite height restrictions in place to protect the integrity of the Budapest panorama, considered a World Heritage site”.
    That seems to imply that the proposed location is part of Budapest’s World Heritage Site(s). If I understand correctly, the listed Budapest Panorama World Heritage site, including buffer zone, at its northern end reaches just beyond Margaret Bridge and does not include the area of the proposed project.*
    Of course, this doesn’t alter the meat of the article, but I suppose it’s always best to try to be as precise and clear as possible.
    Anyway, keep at it!
    With best wishes,
    Bob Dent
    * (See the map on http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/400/multiple=1&unique_number=462)

    • Christopher Adam says:

      Dear Bob,

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, the development falls outside the zone that is considered a World Heritage site. My understanding is that Chief Architect Katalin Korompay’s concern (and that of others) is that the building changes the broader Budapest panorama and will be seen when visitors or locals enjoy the view. Ms. Korompay used the Hungarian term “belelátszik” to suggest how it will disrupt the skyline and the city’s profile.

      The other interesting perspective, though not mentioned in my article, is that there is no burning need to build upwards in Budapest. (This is in contrast to capitals like Bratislava.) Not only is there sufficient space in and around Budapest, but large chunks of central Budapest could accommodate a higher population density without building upwards.

  2. Real estate prices are not really expected to rise significantly in Budapest ( especially to price levels in Western metropolises ). Sounds like a stinking real estate speculation… …I wouldn’t be surprised if in the end of the day, nothing will be materialized from the plans anyway…

  3. It does not sound like a stinking real estate speculation….it IS a stinking real estate speculation that Orbán’s business cronies, political minions, and Antal Rogán have specialized in for years. I wonder why Bob Dent elects to focus on Chris Adam’s marginalia as opposed to the substance of the fraud. Hungary is a mafia-state, ruled by a god-father who is unchallenged because he is feared. This is what has become of Hungarian Democracy during the past 6 years.

  4. Gollner you were clear, true and concise as usual!

  5. I would not be surprised at all if Garancsi’s building becomes a Trump tower. Since Trump became the President-elect, huge hotel/tower projects are getting approved at lightening speed all over the world.

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