When a Czech-American group handed over a valuable piece of Manhattan real estate to the Czech Government in the year 2001, it was expected that the building would be fully renovated by 2004. Six years on, construction work on the city's Bohemian National Hall or "Narodni Dum" is still incomplete. This week, a representative of the New York Czech community is in the Czech capital to confer with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ilya Marritz has more.
Josef Balaz is a man on a mission. The President of the Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association came to Prague last week to find out why the rebuilding of Narodni Dum, or Bohemian National Hall, on Manhattan's swanky Upper East Side is taking so long - and when it will be completed. After a meeting yesterday with government officials, he thinks he may have an answer.
"I must say yeah we are frustrated, but we are promised construction will start within the next couple of months and I want to believe that. And then I would estimate that probably the whole process will take about a year and then it will be finally finished."
A 2008 completion date would put the restoration eight years behind schedule. The cost has also more than doubled, from 350 million crowns in the year 2000, to an estimated 730 million crowns, or almost 34 million US dollars today.
Margita Fuchsova, a former consul-general of the Czech Republic in Los Angeles, is in charge of overseeing the reconstruction. She explains the delay.
"The first reason was this - one must consider that we're building in the United States, in the city of New York, on the island of Manhattan. We've encountered many bureaucratic hurdles. And then as the construction was beginning, we had the misfortune of having a storage vat of oil spill over about a third of the building, so there was a lot of legal wrangling after that."
When the Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association accepted one dollar as symbolic payment for the building, the members of the once thriving New York Czech community hoped the government would be a better custodian of the building than the Association was able to be.
"The idea was that by working closely with the Czech government, the Czech government could help us restore the building and really use it as a showcase for Czech culture, Czech history, and down the road representing business interests of the Czech Republic."
Now, Balaz says, there is hope that Czechs, Americans, and Czech Americans will soon be able to properly appreciate this unusual edifice.
"It's a very unique building, it's located on the Upper East Side of
Manhattan. It's quite large I must say. And I would dare to say there are
not too many countries that own anything even close to that in Manhattan.
It's probably the only building that has a Czech inscription on the facade
of the building - Cesky Narodni Dum."
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