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Northern Venice set for events

Hometown of Dostoeyevsky, Vladimir Putin and footballer Andrei Arshavin, as well as the cultural treasures of the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg has long been a canvas for many global historical events. From Peter the Great, through to the firing of the guns of the Aurora battleship that heralded the Bolshevik Revolution, and to the elite gatherings of today, such as the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, the city has always had a pull for the main event.

The reputed Venice of the North, with its ‘window on the West’ has always been a northern trade hub, particularly if your business is connected to Scandinavia. Strong local sectors include pharmaceuticals, shipping, motor manufacturing, trade and finance.

Now it hopes to become a major international destination in the exhibition industry. Around 250 exhibitions and 600 major conferences are already held each year in St Petersburg and the city’s claim to the country’s exhibition industry crown will no doubt be helped by the $1bn ExpoForum Exhibition and Congress Centre project, due for completion in 2013.

Currently, the largest events facility is Lenexpo, with eight conference halls and 40,000sqm of indoor events space. Director general Sergey Alexeev tells EW Lenexpo’s 2020 Programme envisages boosting indoor exhibition space by half, to 60,000sqm, with a new 30,000sqm congress centre and main hall with 5,000 seats. The programme also includes a hotel, business centre and yachting marina.

If Lenexpo is the big, elder brother venue and organiser on the city’s events space market, PetroCongress is the new baby on the block. It opened 22 January and is managed by one of the country’s biggest organisers, Restec. Restec president Sergei Trofimov believes PetroCongress takes event activities to “a new international level” in the city and reports over 20 events hosted in the six weeks since the opening.

“When our plans are realised, the new centre will be one of the symbols of the new St Petersburg.”

Another major events venue is the large indoor St Petersburg Sports and Concert Complex, where Farexpo is the resident organiser of large exhibitions and conferences.

However, it’s the new $1bn Expoforum venue that is currently stealing headlines.

Gazenergoprombank Development, the main shareholder in the new convention and exhibition centre complex has bought 25 per cent of Lenexpo, its biggest city competitor. The deal, according to Gazenergoprombank, allows the two venues to become partners instead of competitors. ExpoForum remains committed to its new centre project near to Pulkovo Airport but the companies now say they will jointly plan their strategies.

Lenexpo, built 40 years ago, is in dire need of modernisation, but prior to the ExpoForum move, had seemingly lacked the funds to fully realise its 2020 development project. “We have a programme to develop the complex that calls for the total amount of indoor exhibition space to be increased to 60,000 square metres by 2020,” says Lenexpo general director Sergei Alexeev. “A new congress centre will be built, as well as a hotel and a business centre. Lenexpo will be transformed into a World Trade Centre.”

He believes the reconstruction of Lenexpo is necessary not just to improve logistics and the quality of the exhibition services, but in order to take advantage of its location on the sea. He also suggested that the plans for modernising Lenexpo’s structure must now take into account the construction plans for the 100,000sqm of new space and convention centre with a main auditorium seating 3,000 at ExpoForum.