Planned glass-covered shopping center on Prague’s Pařížská Street faces growing opposition

The renovations of the former InterContinental Hotel include the development of the adjacent plaza.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 02.02.2021 12:05 (updated on 03.02.2021)

A plan to build a glass shopping center on Prague’s trendy Pařížská Street has run into opposition from city residents and conservationists.

Prague authorities initially were a bit cool to the project to build a shopping and office center on náměstí Miloše Formana, the plaza in front of the former InterContinental Hotel, but after a year of discussions and some modifications they have a more positive outlook.

A petition to stop the project and block any development of náměstí Miloše Formana was discussed by the Prague Assembly on Jan. 22. However, the Assembly did not vote in favor of the petition, and the developers are now seeking a zoning decision, the next step toward construction. Whether construction will eventually be permitted has not yet been decided.

Side view of the original design of the shopping center. (image: NeoVisual.cz)
Side view of the original design of the shopping center. (image: NeoVisual.cz)

The InterContinental Hotel and the plaza are currently owned by by the group WIC Prague, a part of investment fund R2G. The group is currently renovating the hotel and is also changing its name to Golden Prague Hotel managed by Fairmont. R2G is run by Czech billionaires Oldřich Šlemr, Pavel Baudiš, and Eduard Kučera.

The modification of the area around the hotel, including the square, is called Staroměstská brána (Old Town Gate). The planned building has a working name of Brand Store. The renovations of the hotel and Old Town Gate should be completed by Jan. 1, 2023.

Opponents to Brand Store say it destroys the character of the area and also blocks the view of the hotel and other significant landmarks. They also claim that public hearings, which has been promised, were never held.

The project developer, however, claims that the site had buildings on it before World War II, and that the actual usable area of the plaza would increase. They also say that the city, the public, and conservationists have worked together on the plan, and that modifications had been made to satisfy objections.

The building plan has been shortened so now it is four stories, for example, and its overall look was changed since the plan was unveiled over a year ago.

“The professional institutions of the Prague 1 district, the capital city of Prague, the National Heritage Institute (NPÚ), experts in the field of architecture and urban planning as well as the citizens themselves took part in these modifications,” Jakub Dyba, speaking on behalf of the investors, told news server Nasregion.

Prague 1 Mayor Petr Hejma said he appreciated that someone is willing to invest in the transformation of the square. “Its current appearance does not please Prague 1,” he said.

InterContinental Hotel and part of náměstí Miloše Formana. (photo: Raymond Johnston)
InterContinental Hotel and part of náměstí Miloše Formana. (photo: Raymond Johnston)

He also said he appreciates the investors communication with the professional and general public. “Of course, in addition to the public, we will continue to be interested in the opinion of monument care and other institutions concerned,” Prague 1 Mayor Petr Hejma said in October 2020 when the modified plans were presented to the public at an info center in the hotel.

The Prague Institute of Planning and Development (IPR Praha) is also in favor of developing the square.

“The location does not work today as a full-fledged square. We agree with the renovation of the InterContinental in the adjacent public spaces and we support the project,” IPR spokesman Marek Vácha told news server iDnes.

“We consider the proposed completion to be adequate and suitable in terms of volume and scale. The new building will clearly define the space,” he added.

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The former mayor of Prague 1, Pavel Čižinský, is one of the opponents. He said a petition against he project got 500 signatures in five days, despite anti-COVID measures.

Čižinský claims the opinion of Prague’s Monuments Department is in conflict with the expert opinion of the NPÚ, which wants to declare the InterContinental Hotel and its surroundings, including náměstí Miloše Formana, as a cultural monument. The Ministry of Culture should decide on the matter this year. If the square is declared a monument, then construction would not be possible.

In the past, though, the Ministry of Culture has been reluctant to protect some communist-era buildings. Both the Transgas building and Hotel Praha failed to get protection and were torn down. A plaza on Národní třída, which had been part of the original concept of what is now the Tesco department store, also failed to get protection wand was developed into the Quadrio shopping center.

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City Councilor Hana Kordová Marvanová also opposes the development of náměstí Miloše Formana.

“I think the square should remain a square, and we all promised people that. Such changes in the existing development should not be made without the participation of local people and without an agreement with them,” Marvanová told daily Právo.

“The world's metropolises make sure that the open areas in the center remain undeveloped and are transformed into rest areas, for example by landscaping,”she added.

Klub Za starou Prahu (Club for Old Prague) has clearly expressed its disagreement with the planned shopping center. Club chairwoman Kateřina Bečková and vice chairman Richard Biegel, said the open space should be preserved as part of the overall concept of the Brutalist-style hotel.

“Klub Za starou Prahu is of the opinion that the proposed four-story pavilion does not respect the architectural value of this square, harms its functions, and even approaches this quality urban space as if it were a mere gap, which the club considers a major urban and architectural mistake," Bečková and Biegel said.

The plaza was created together with the hotel between 1968 and 1974 according to the design of a team of architects led by Karel Filsak,

"The club does not consider it necessary for this unsuitable four-story building to be part of the ongoing renovation of Filsak’s hotel," they added.

The civic group Občané Prahy 1 (Citizens of Prague 1) has also been opposing the development of the square. The group has organized two petitions against the development of the square, including the one that was rejected by the Prague Assembly.

“This is the construction of a department store with offices on the square in the very historical center of Prague! Have we lost the last bits of common sense and judgment?” group chairman Tomáš Bajusz told news server Nasregion.

“This is an exemplary prioritization of the interests of developers over the interests of the city and its inhabitants,” he said.

He added that the surroundings of the hotel and the square have been neglected, as the original owners did not invest in repairs beyond what was necessary to generate profit. “Revitalization is needed, we welcome it, but no building just belongs there. The plaza … is a well-thought-out public space and its task is to separate the Brutalist-style hotel from the surrounding historical houses,” he added.

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