Kotva loses heritage protection

A new decision on the 1970s department store is expected soon

Kotva department store has lost its heritage protection due to a technicality, just days after plans for an extensive renovation were announced. The modern-style building on Prague’s náměstí Republiky had been declared a protected landmark in October 2018, after a two-year legal procedure that began in September 2016. A prior effort to grant it landmark protection in 2007 failed.

Culture Minister Antonín Staněk (ČSSD) canceled the decision to name the Kotva a protected monument because the building’s owner changed during the legal procedure for granting protection, but neither the original nor the new owner informed the ministry.

The original owner had an obligation to inform the ministry but failed to do so.

Both the former and new owners used the same legal representation for the landmark status case, and the legal team did not inform the ministry of any changes of their clients.

The issue of landmark protection now goes back to the ministry’s conservationists for reconsideration.

“The reasons are only formal and the decision has been made to avoid any further complications or litigation. The main cause of this decision was the change of the owner, i.e. the party to the proceedings, during the first instance procedure, which was not conveyed to the Ministry of Culture,” the Culture Ministry said on its website.

“Due to the reason of legal certainty for the new party to the proceedings, the second-instance body canceled the original first-instance decision on the declaration as a cultural monument and returned the case to the Ministry for further proceedings. The reasons were not factual but procedural,” the ministry said, adding that “a new first instance decision can be expected soon.”

The current owner of the department store is Pražská správa nemovitostí (PSN), owned by billionaire Václav Skala.

PSN lodged the appeal against the landmark protection, claiming they were not properly represented as it was unclear to the ministry who the client was.

Last week, PSN announced plans for a Kč 1 billion renovation of Kotva. The planned renovations should start next year and take one year to complete. The renovations have been approved by the National Heritage Institute (NPÚ), albeit with some reservations.

Kotva was radical for its time. It is built on a hexagonal pattern to suggest busy bees and was designed by architects Věra Machoninová and Vladimir Machonin. The construction, between 1970 and ’75, was done by a Swedish firm, which was unusual during the communist era. The largest store in Czechoslovakia was intended to show the success of socialism, but it was often nearly empty of goods.

Since the 1990s, Kotva changed ownership several times. In 2005 Kotva was bought by the Irish group Markland. In 2016, the Irish state consolidation agency NAMA sold it to PSN for a reported 80 million euros.

Kotva was built in the communist era, and buildings from that time seldom get monument protection. The Trangas building, located behind the National Museum, failed to get protection despite being a unique structure. It is currently being demolished to make was for a multi-use retail, office and housing project. Hotel Praha, filled with socialist era mosaics and other artworks, was torn down in 2014 after an unsuccessful legal battle to save it.

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