Barcelona City Council brings down Hermitage project

Council rejects application by Russian museum franchise and calls for a more transversal cultural project

3 min
Recreation of the project of the Japanese architect Toyo Ito for the Hermitage in Barcelona

BarcelonaThe City council of Barcelona has agreed in a government commission to reject the Port of Barcelona's agreement with the Hermitage museum franchise. The allegations that the promoters of the museum had presented to the City Council's decision were also rejected. Thus, the Port's decision to grant land to the Hermitage Museum is overturned, as it was dependent on city council support. "We have been forced to take this decision," said the mayor Janet Sanz, representing the City Council on the Port's board of directors.

The council believes the project approved by the Port was outdated and the most recent version, in alliance with the Liceu, was unfeasible. "The Liceu and the Hermitage do not fit in this 12,000-square metre space and, therefore, we need a new project and a new space," said councillor for Ecology, Urbanism, Infrastructure and Mobility Janet Sanz, who said that in the port area there are other spaces to grow. "We want to develop the port not with tourist monoculture, but from a neighbourhood, sustainable and environmental perspective".

Government crisis

The decision opens a split within the municipal government, as the Socialist party has abstained. "The socialists are absolutely in favor of cultural initiative in our city, also of private initiative. Therefore, we are in favour of the Hermitage-Liceu project," said Laia Bonet, mayor's secretary for Agenda 2030 and Digital Transition. Bonet believes both the Port and the City Council have been hasty, because it would have been possible to put finishing details on the project. The PSC believes that the City Council should not have taken this decision today, but should have continued working on an alternative project, because today's decision "is a negative message" and it enters "the risk of judicialisation". Instead, Barcelona en Comú has preferred to put an end to this application after Port unilaterally reached an agreement on Wednesday.

Even so, no one seems willing to give up the €50m investment from the private sector, and the 400 direct and indirect jobs they promised: "Obviously we want this investment, of course we want it, with a better project. We work to make it possible," Sanz has defended. "We don't want anyone to leave the table," said Bonet, who explained the risk of this happening, despite the fact that progress had been made on a powerful project for the city that resolved the doubts generated by the previous one, above all linked to mobility and its roots in the city. "The actors are there, we are willing to endorse a comprehensive proposal, and we are confident that we can solve it," said Sanz. But, in any case, it will not be the Hermitage project that we knew until today and that had to open its doors in 2024.

A new project

The City Council says it is willing to rethink a new project that includes other actors that have come to the fore; in particular, Sanz has mentioned the Liceu and the European Urban Tech, which have shown interest in the vacant lot. The cultural project that Barcelona en Comú defends for such a privileged space in 21st century Barcelona would have to be more transversal and with a more "Barcelonian identity" than a franchise of a Russian museum, they have explained. Sanz recalled that there are several reports from external specialists that advise against this project. "I am convinced that we can find the best project linked to innovation, culture and economic activity," said the mayor Ada Colau. "We do not question that the Hermitage can come to Barcelona", but not on a public land and in a strategic place like the Port, she said this morning.

The City Council considers that the Port of Barcelona rushed into the decision in order "to protect itself from patrimonial responsibilities towards the Hermitage, because it had advanced too far in its responsibilities with the promoters without the City Council's agreement". Even so, he invites the Port of Barcelona to present a new agreement next month. Now we will have to see if the promoters want to continue negotiating or not, or if they decide to go to court.