Sochi 2014: If You Build It, They Will Come


As I mentioned in my last post, Sochi is undergoing major changes. The city stretches along the coastline, and reaches back into a mountain range about 5 to 10 kilometers beyond the coast. This makes for some interesting transportation challenges.

The current condition of the roads leaves much to be desired. This may be explained, in part, because the city is made up of 79 separate councils. Seventy-nine!

One might surmise that the ensuing political gridlock begets that other kind – the kind that leaves you sitting in traffic while your plane is taking off.

Although the physical landscape is immutable, in an attempt to tame it, they are building new roads, railways, overpasses, underpasses, bypasses, four lane, three lane and two lane highways and byways, not to mention bridges and tunnels, crisscrossing the city.

And since all roads must lead to somewhere, the construction of hotels, high-rise condos, apartments, apartment hotels and shopping centers is keeping pace. Sochi is zooming towards status as a “Red Star” city. It is fast becoming the preferred resort for about 2 million (mainly Russian, and mainly well-heeled) holidaymakers.

Yet, what is particularly interesting is that the region’s population of about 350,000 seem to be spectators in the city’s transformation, rather than actors.

Construction is everywhere, but it’s helter-skelter; and it appears that the city’s residents are not among those working in the trades – but rather imports from Turkey, Armenia and all the “stans” one can imagine – many of which one cannot pronounce.

Of these thousands upon thousands of workers, about 99 percent are Muslim – yet, there are no Mosque’s to be found in Sochi. Permission not yet given, but promised. Do the hosts worry that if their guests get too comfortable, they won’t leave? This seems unlikely given they earn between two and three dollars per hour (the price of a cup of coffee in Sochi.)

Seasons Russia Hotel

Sochi construction – Seasons Russia Hotel

The sheer speed of construction poses its own set of challenges. Most projects have multiple contractors on the job – a safeguard in case one happens to go bust, or absconds with the cash, or is unable to complete for any reason; a backup for a backup, so to speak.

You might be wondering how one contractor seamlessly begins where another has halted? The contractor left behind dovetails his work by covering up any unfinished bits with slate. There is slate everywhere – walls, halls, floors, counters. There is slate every which way you turn.

Sochi Construction

Sochi Construction close up

If you visit a site under construction, you’ll be astounded by the rough work. Envision finished walls, marred by gaping holes made by jackhammers because the wiring got overlooked. There are patches everywhere – covered by, you guessed it, slate. You can’t escape the construction, but you’d be hard pressed to find a single hard hat anywhere.

One gets the feeling the construction isn’t just rushed. It’s also haphazard.

Rosa Khutor2

Rosa Khutor – Mountain Cluster

Take the nearby mountain cluster of Krasnaya Polyana, which proudly boasts a new “village.” It looks beautiful.

I like to think of it as, “Whistler, Built in a Day”. It’s a little bit European, a little bit Russian, and a whole lot of “Hurry, hurry, the world is coming!”

Radisson Hotel Rosa Khutor

Rosa Khutor – Radison Hotel

The result is a bunch of hotels, only two of which are open. Both are less than a year old. They are quite nice looking. The ski lockers are amazing. The layouts of the hotels are certainly different than what we are used to. Although generally completed, the new village will not open until after the test events, sometime in March. More on that later (Monday).