Gov’t Trades Theater Land for Renovation

Culture and Fine Arts Minister Prince Sisowath Panara Siri­vuddh confirmed Tuesday that the land around the Bassac Thea­ter has been handed over to Kith Meng, chairman of Cam­bodian Tele­vi­sion Network and Mobitel, in ex­change for renovating the theater for an estimated $10 million.

Prince Panara Sirivuddh also con­firmed that the Mong Reththy Group will build a new arts campus on a 4-hectare plot of land in Tuol Kok district, in exchange for the Royal University of Fine Arts’ main campus, located near Old Stadium.

Kith Meng’s proposal to renovate the national theater and build a training center for the performing arts was accepted under two conditions: The theater retain its ori­ginal name and that it be rebuilt to appear as it did in the 1960s, Prince Panara Sirivuddh said.

In return, he said, Kith Meng will get an undisclosed amount of land around the theater to build a conference center and office buildings.

Kith Meng refused to comment Tuesday.

In January, King Norodom Siha­moni had expressed his intention to take on the restoration of the thea­­ter, built by his father, re­tired King Norodom Sihanouk, ac­cor­ding to the International Her­ald Tri­bune.

King Sihamoni at the time re­portedly estimated the project would cost $30 million.

The 3.17 hectares of the RUFA main campus, meanwhile, will be handed over to the Mong Reththy Group. The university’s smal­ler campus behind the Na­tional Mu­­­seum will be retained by the Min­istry of Culture, Prince Panara Sir­ivuddh said.

The ministry intends to expand the museum onto that land, he said.

The current university buildings—the smaller one was built in 1918, and the main campus was built in the 1960s—are falling apart and rampant with crime, he said.

“I would like to create a university like in Europe,” he said.

He said he did not know how much the new university would cost.

Mong Reththy confirmed Tues­day his company’s plans to build a new university in Tuol Kok for more than 1,000 students.

“The ministry was asking me for help,” he said, adding the final de­tails will be worked out over the next few days.

He would not reveal the cost of the new university or what will be built on the old campus’ grounds.

Prince Panara Sirivuddh said he lobbied the international community for years to provide funds for the two projects but never re­ceived any real takers.

“We had promises from everywhere,” he said. “But nobody was serious.”

At the university, Rector Tuy Koeun said he didn’t mind changing locations if it meant moving into a new campus.

“The current university is very old and decayed,” he said.

At the theater, Chief of Admin­is­tra­tion Buth Chhoeun said he would love to see the theater re­turned to its former glory but worried about the impact the renovations would have on the original archi­tecture.

“I’m a little concerned the building will not be Khmer,” he said. “But we are happy if we have a place to perform.”


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