Moscow's half-empty $12 billion financial district looks worse than you imagined

Moscow’s financial district, with its $US12 billion worth of skyscrapers, was meant to be a gleaming beacon for Russia’s post-Soviet market economy.

But now with Russia’s economy in free-fall, the Moscow City complex property values have nosedived, construction sites are abandoned, and vacancy rates have soared to 45%, according to real estate consultants Blackwood.

Moscow-based photographer Konstantin Salomatin visited the area for Business Insider on a recent weekday to see how bad it really is.

Conceived in 1992, the Moscow International Business Center was meant to rival Manhattan or London.

The 148-acre area boasts four of the five tallest buildings in Europe, including the tallest one, The Federation Tower East.

All the towers were built to impress, though, like the 54-story, double helix-shaped Evolution tower, seen below.

Eight skyscrapers in total have been finished, eight more are under construction, and another two are planned to be finished by 2018. The total cost has been estimated at $12 billion.

But the whole thing feels unreasonably optimistic. 'Somebody had the idea that if you build a lot of skyscrapers in one spot you have an international financial center. But it doesn't work. You need other things, too,' Darrell Stanaford, a real estate analyst, told the New York Times.

It hasn't helped that Russia's economy has grown slower than expected in recent years, with collapsing oil prices and sanctions from the west causing a crisis in 2014.

Those are a few of the reasons why a shocking 45% of these buildings are empty, reports real estate consultancy group Blackwood, and that rate is projected to reach 50% this year.

The streets are strikingly empty.

In many areas, the only people Salomatin saw were guards.

There were almost no other pedestrians.

It is not unusual to see graffiti in places once meant to be pristine.

Locals report that construction in the district has ground to a halt. 'I came to Moscow three years ago. I don't see that a lot has changed in the last three years,' says Salomatin.

Construction has slowed, in part, due to a lack of both money and demand for office space in the district.

And things seem to only be getting worse. While construction is moving at a snail's pace, more buildings are expected to be finished, pushing the vacancy rate to 50% by the end of 2015.

One Russian we spoke to called Moscow City 'the ugliest thing,' adding, 'I am saying this as a born-and-bred Muscovite: it's an eye-sore.'

Salomatin says the people who work there are 'rich people in suits.' He says he never sees any Russian-built cars on the streets, only BMWs, Mercedes, and Jaguars.

But even the numbers of fancy cars and foreign businessmen seem to be dwindling.

The New York Times reports that only 42% of the occupants on new leases in 2014 were international financial companies, the kinds of companies the buildings were initially intended for.

Local and non-financial business are snapping up the space in part because of its cheapness. Office space in Moscow city is rented at an average of $6.90 a square foot, 85 cents cheaper than other average in other areas of Moscow.

For comparison, office space in London can be as expensive as $274 per square foot -- 40 times more expensive.

Many spaces originally meant for offices are now being repurposed for things like hostels or a movie theatre.

Many Moscow residents lament the striking differences between historic Moscow and the new construction of Moscow City.

Another Moscow resident we spoke to called Moscow City 'a big mistake urban planning,' saying that the skyscrapers are built too close to the historic city center, spoiling views around the city.

Salomatin agrees, saying he prefers how old Moscow looks. He calls Moscow City 'strangle glass baubles.'

The district is good for one thing, though, Salomatin says: 'At night, people will drive out to an abandoned parking lot or construction area with a bottle of vodka or cognac, and just sit and look at the lights.'

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