Article published in print in The International Herald Tribune and online in The New York Times, on 03/05/2013
KIEV — As snow started to melt, the Vozdvyzhenka district here felt like it finally was coming to life.
After 10 years of construction, the work crews and the piles of building materials were all but gone. The park and children’s playground had been completed. The sun was catching the bright colors — reds, yellows and turquoise blues — of the 100 new brick apartment buildings and individual homes that now cover the 17-hectare, or 42-acre, district.
And developers of the $100 million project were saying that 75 percent of its 398 residences had been sold.
“The idea to have a top-end artistic residential district in the very historic center of Kiev dates back to the 1990s,” said Taras Zyabkin, sales director of the Kievgorstroy-1 Group, which developed the project. Construction began in 2003, and the last three buildings were completed this week.
The buildings, each three to five stories tall, were designed in the Ukrainian Baroque style of the 17th and 18th centuries, but each has some variation to avoid uniformity. The interiors are finished but owners must install their own kitchen and bathroom fixtures.
The residences range from 60 to 300 square meters, or about 650 to 3,200 square feet, and are valued at $3,500 to $4,000 per square meter. (Most high-end properties in Ukraine are valued in dollars.)
Before construction began, the area was dotted with old buildings and had three major roads, all in poor condition. The roads have been repaired and a fourth, Honcharna Street, was constructed. The most luxurious of the project’s residential buildings and mansions were built along Honcharna, a dead end, as developers expected it would deter traffic and limit any noise.
One of the area’s original roads, Vozdvyzhenka Street, branches off from Andriyvsky Uzviz, which is popularly known as the street of artists, and leads down to the Podil district, one of the most historical areas of the city.
In a way, Vozdvyzhenka Street reflects the range of modern Kiev. It has the Gastrorock bar, a new place that has quickly become one of the city’s hotspots, and Khrestovozdvyzhenska Church, where the Soviet writer Mikhail Bulgakov was baptized in the late 19th century.
“It is obvious that this project wins in attraction because of its location” in the city’s historic center, said Julia Viter of the real estate company Socmart, based in Kiev.
From the first, the project attracted attention. Preconstruction prices, which started at $2,500 per square meter in 2004, had doubled by 2006. One of the most luxurious apartments, on Kozhumiatska Street, was purchased during the summer of 2008 for $7,000 per square meter.
The global financial crisis hit Ukrainian real estate just a few months later, and soon after what had seemed like a huge success started turning into a developer’s nightmare.
Drainage problems required the construction of thick containment walls. The installation of electricity and gas service ran into administrative obstacles. “Interminable construction work, poor quality materials, terrible servicing of buildings and of the local area led to discontent and perturbation of the investors and poor media coverage,” Ms. Viter said.
The local news media began calling the Vozdvyzhenka district the “millionaires’ ghost town.”
But the developers persevered and eventually things began to improve. For example, lack of parking had been a complaint, but now the developers have cleared the buildings’ inner courtyards for parking and opened two underground garages. Residents still are waiting, however, for the promised fitness, cigar and billiards clubs.
While sales reports are strong, about 90 properties of about 300 properties sold are actually inhabited, with the rest either up for rent or under renovation.
But the developers say that their buyers are among the country’s elite. “Many state and government officials bought our apartments, as well as artists such as Ukrainian pop idol Gallina,” Mr. Zyabkin said. “Many of them fancy creating their own space, so many places are now being redesigned.”
The neighborhood also has seen some changes with the appearance of several art galleries, banks, restaurants, a clinic and a veterinary practice. A supermarket also is scheduled to open soon, though “our residents do not usually go shopping themselves, so it’s not such a big issue,” Mr. Zyabkin said.