St Petersburg’s new football colosseum

(Photo credit: Daniel Kozin)

St Petersburg’s long awaited brand-new football stadium has finally opened its doors to the public. After more than 10 years of construction, a series of missed deadlines, and spiralling costs, the colossal 68,000-seater stands tall and ready to host world-class football games and concerts

The first public event at the stadium took place on Saturday, 11 February, and despite some technical glitches, a lucky 10,000 visitors, of whom Prospekt Magazine was a part, were among the first to see the arena in action. The event featured extreme sports and drifting and was designed to help test the capabilities of the new stadium, including safety, acoustics, and lighting.

No one was there to see the cars, though.

“The most important thing is that they finally built it,” said Katya, a St Petersburg resident and football fan.

“But, of course, it looks amazing. Such a huge stadium is worthy of our city.”

The enormous arena is set to be the home stadium for the city’s football club, Zenit St Petersburg, and will host matches of the FIFA Confederations Cup this summer as well as key matches of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It is rated as an “Elite” Category 4 stadium by UEFA, Europe’s footballing body.

“This means a lot for our city, and for football in our city,” said Alexei, a volunteer at the test event.

“We finally have a modern stadium that can host top-level competitions in the city. It’s a huge step forward.”

The arena hosts impressive technical capabilities and is the largest stadium of its kind with a retractable playing field—which rolls out into the nearby park—and a retractable roof. Thanks to the closed roof, visitors of the test-event were kept comfortably warm despite St Petersburg’s freezing February weather.

These technical capabilities, however, came at a cost.

The initial design, chosen in 2004, was projected to cost 7.2 billion rubles ($250 million using the old exchange rate) and was due to be completed in just 3 years. Ultimately, the arena took more than 10 years to build, at a cost of 41.7 billion rubles ($716 million—current exchange rate), making it one of the most expensive stadiums in the world. The project was largely financed by taxes collected by the city government.

The ballooning costs and constant delays made the stadium the butt of many jokes as well as the target of serious criticism. Alleged corruption and kick-backs plagued the construction of the stadium.

Some of the delays were caused by changes in the project design. The retractable roof and field more than doubled costs in 2007. Another change followed in 2010 after Russia was chosen to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The stadium capacity was increased to hold the semi-final of the competition.

Despite the many problems, construction was finally finished on 26 December, 2016. While some cosmetic changes will be made to improve aspects like navigation and concession stands, the building itself is a marvel of engineering.

A rock concert will be held at the stadium on 22 February. The first football match is scheduled for late April.

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