It has been over one and a half years since Russia invaded Ukraine, and for just as long, the former Hartwall Arena – which is now called Helsinki Halli – has not been in use, facing an uncertain future. Since 2013, the largest concert venue in Finland’s capital Helsinki is owned by Russian oligarchs – Gennady Timchenko and the brothers Arkady and Boris Romanovich Rotenberg – who are now on the EU sanctions list, in conjunction with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In order to avoid association with the Russian main owners, the Helsinki-based beverage company Hartwall, largest sponsor and holder of the naming rights to the arena, ended its sponsorship and had all Hartwall signs removed from the venue’s walls within the first week of the invasion. At the same time, event organisers who had bookings for the arena started to look for alternative venues.
Some events had to be cancelled altogether, and some were moved either to smaller venues in Helsinki, such as the Helsinki Ice Hall, or to other cities like Espoo and Tampere. Already early on, Tampere seemed particularly attractive with its brand new 15,000-seat Nokia Arena which opened less than two years ago, in December 2021. The fact that Tampere is becoming the more attractive location in Finland in this regard seems to be not quite welcomed in Helsinki and in turn has led to plans for building new arenas in Helsinki, including one that is supposed to become the largest multi-purpose arena for cultural and sports events in Northern Europe.
One possibility that was openly discussed with regard to the already existing arena was the fact that a rent of 100,000 euros had remained unpaid. The hope was that this fact could be used to initiate legal proceedings, which in turn could have led to new owners. At the same time as this possibility was being discussed, Finland’s minister for foreign affairs, Elina Valtonen (National Coalition Party), made the following statement at the end of August 2023:
“We have started to prepare a solution. First, we are looking for options on how the arena and possibly other similar properties could be made available for the benefit of the public. A solution to this will be found in the near future and will be communicated in due course. It is very important to have a venue in the capital, for example, where sports and cultural events can be organised.”– Elina Valtonen
At the same time, Elina Valtonen pointed out that everything must be done “in accordance with the law” and “that’s why it will take some time”.
It is unclear whether Elina Valtonen’s statement was made with the unpaid rent in mind, or whether there are other ways to act on this matter beyond the unpaid rent. If the latter is not the case, Helsinki Halli will likely remain unused for quite some time to come, as the owners have now paid the rent in full to the City of Helsinki. This means that the initiation of legal proceedings that could have led to new owners is off the table.
When asked by the Finnish media company MTV, the office of the Mayor of Helsinki, Juhana Vartiainen, said that there had been no further developments regarding Helsinki Halli since Elina Valtonen’s statement at the end of August 2023.
The next payment of rent for Helsinki Halli is due in mid-October 2023.