Budapest Dreams


If a society is defined by the dreams it dares to dream, Budapest is definitely one of the biggest players in the region. But if residents can’t help a sarcastic comment or two when city leaders ‘dream big’, they have good reason. On the following pages we list a few iconic projects that aimed to make their mark on the face of the city, but managed instead to contribute to citizens’ skepticism.

Metro line 4

When it comes to Budapest’s “dream projects”, you  help but begin with the fourth subway line, the original idea for which goes back to 1972. If that date seems too distant, consider this: the plans for the subway line being executed now have been around for 18 years. The study that set the current path for the Metro was written in 1996. The first announcement of the actual building of the line came from then-Budapest mayor Gábor Demszky, who said in January 1998 that it would be completed by 2003. The costs of the project were estimated to be roughly HUF 130 billion at the time.

After years of debates and minor changes to the plan, work finally began in 2004, with a new completion target date of 2008, and a new projected budget of HUF 195 bln.

While it is next to impossible to tally all the difficulties and arguments around the construction, it is enough to recall that although the subway line is now functionally ready (the first trains on the line departed last November) the current target date for opening it to the public is still in somewhat farther of: March 2014, to be more precise. Some of the sites of the building work have been closed off since 2008, including high traffic areas, such as Baross Gábor tér next to the Keleti railway station, and Kálvin tér in downtown Pest.

In the meantime, most Budapesters think that the fourth subway line is a mere fiction, and the project has become an icon for the  typical Hungarian failure. The costs of the project are now estimated to be around HUF 452.5 bln. And that is for the first section of the line alone. The costs for completing the whole subway currently reside in the area of the unknown.


Castle Bazaar

The tender of the Swietelski-WHB consortium won the right to reconstruct the Castle Bazaar with its offer of HUF 8.99 bln. The municipality of Budapest’s District I will also chip in with some HUF 6.4 bln to support the project, mostly using EU-funding. Contracts were signed earlier this year, and the cranes are already in place. Work is set to begin this spring as the target deadline of March 30, 2014 miraculously coincides with the date of the upcoming general elections, and should not, therefore, be missed.

But the saga behind the project is not quite as plain as it seems now. Once a busy commercial neighborhood, later an infamous youth hangout in the 1960s and ’70s, the Castle Bazaar has been in ruins for almost three decades. After years of continual degradation, a wall of the building actually collapsed during a concert of the legendary rock group Edda in 1980, and the venue was finally closed down in 1984.

The bazaar, located in the immediate vicinity of landmark buildings such as the Lánchíd and Buda Castle, has been a black spot of the city ever since the overthrowing of the communist regime in 1989. What seems like innumerable plans have been drawn up for the reconstruction of the area, but all failed due to a lack of commitment, funding, and last but not least, a lengthy legal debate around ownership of the plot.

According to the latest plans, the area will include a ‘Home of contemporary creativity’, an array of studios let out to young artists, restaurants, pubs, even a small stage for concerts and performances and a touristy area of shops featuring traditional and contemporary crafts.


Museum Quarter

The vision of building entire quarters has been haunting Hungarian governments for quite some time: after the spectacular failure of the space-age Government Quarter, which would have reshaped the face of districts 6 and 13 between Nyugati Pályaudvar and Hungária körút in 2008, the Orbán government came up with a different idea in a different location. The Museum Quarter would completely reshape the Városliget area for the mammoth amount of around HUF 154.4 bln.

Although to date we know very little about the project, it already has a dedicated Ministerial Commissioner, László Baán, who is also the director of the Museum of Fine Arts, and it has been said that the building complex is expected to be “iconic”.

The five buildings would be home to six museums, arranging some of the most important public collections in one area. The Ethnographic Museum, the Hungarian Photography Museum, the New National Gallery, the Ludwig Museum, the House of the Hungarian Music, and the Museum of Hungarian Architecture would all move in once the quarter is ready.

Although the details sound intriguing, no visualization has been published yet. The general concept of the project, which will also take in the entire Városliget area, and include the refurbishment of the Petőfi Csarnok cultural center and the utilization of the now defunct Olof Palme House, will be ready by April 2013, and the procurement tender will be put out in 2014.

The target date for opening the new quarter is currently 2018, and funding is expected to originate from the EU’s new budgetary cycle, set to begin next year. As with all excessive plans, a hint of suspicion always remains in the background. Especially if you consider that Budapest hasn’t seen a successfully completed procurement for construction of a public building in the past nine years.


A Footbridge over the Danube

A footbridge over the Danube would be nothing more than yet another fictional idea of the city leadership had Tamás Fellegi not mentioned it in an interview with commercial channel TV2 in 2011. The then Minister of National Resources said that the plans of renowned architect József Finta were on the table of the government, and that the new Széchenyi Action Plan had sufficient funding to complete it.

The bridge would be located in the southern area of the city, between the Petőfi and Lágymányosi bridges and the multi-story building would also function as a cultural and social center, complete with restaurants and coffees.

While to most Budapest residents (especially those promoting the cyclists’ lifestyle) the concept of a pedestrian bridge is more than welcome, where to put it is a matter of some hot debate. Bridges in downtown Budapest are usually located about one km from one another – there is, however, an obvious gap between Lánchíd and Margit híd. Many say that the location of the former Kossuth híd, connecting Parliament with Batthyány tér, built after WWII but removed in 1960, would be ideal. Others would prefer the southern university area, connecting the campuses of ELTE, BME and BCE. Yet another potential location is a bridge between the soon-to-be reconstructed Castle Bazaar and the Duna korzó on the Pest side.

Supporters of the footbridge highlight that the 3,000 km stretch of the Danube includes some 300 bridges, 45 of which are dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists. The southernmost of these bridges is located in Vienna. Given its size, the popularity of cycling and the importance of tourism can be factored in as supporting arguments for a footbridge, they say.


The renewal of the Széll Kálmán tér

When the first plans to reconstruct one of the most important traffic hubs of the Buda side were released, the square was called Moszkva tér. Well, the first few sets of plans, actually. But due to the failure of those plans, Moszkva tér will never be renewed; one of the first actions of István Tarlós was to rename the location Széll Kálmán tér right after he took oath as Mayor of Budapest in 2010.

According to the latest plans, the refurbishment of the square will cost some HUF 4.2 bln, and will include a complete renewal, changing the location’s landscape as it is. Of the 23 architectural studios that participated at the tender put out in 2011, the winning concept was handed in by Építész Stúdió Kft and Lépték Terv Kft. The concept, as stated by chief architect Sándor Finta, managed to find a balance between an important traffic hub and the functionality of a traditional public area.

The planning phase is expected to be complete by the spring of 2013, and according to the current schedule actual construction can begin in 2014. While the plan contains the renewal of the square’s buildings and green areas, much of the budget is dedicated to the reconstruction of the adjoining tramway lines – the funding of this is expected to be sourced, once again, from the EU’s new budgetary cycle.


The M0 ring around Budapest

One of the most important projects for the transformation of Budapest into a true metropolis was the building of its M0 orbital motorway around the city. But while most of the project was completed years ago (with the opening of the Megyeri híd in 2008), the remaining part which would “close” the ring is likely to remain a dream – mostly due to the protest of local residents in Budakalász and other nearby villages.

While the lack of funding remains the primary case for the death of most grandiose urban projects, in this instance, the scenario is somewhat different. Villages adjacent to the planned route of the missing 38km of motorway are unequivocally against the project for a variety of completely understandable reasons: noise, pollution and increased traffic. Most notably, Budakalász (the next village the road would approach after crossing Highway 11 at the Buda head of Megyeri híd), where a civil resistance movement was formed against the highway, offering alternate routes and threatening to blockade traffic on the existing parts of M0 should  officials choose not to hear their voice. But other villages, including Üröm, Pilisborosjenő and Solymár are also strongly against the extension of the orbital motorway.

As a result of these rather strident voices and determined opposition, regardless of any possible financing issues, building the missing part of the M0 and closing the ring around Budapest is likely to remain what it currently is: a Budapest Pipedream.

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