Photo Credit: Emma Hyyppä / Yle

Uncertainty about former Hartwall Arena: Finland’s minister for foreign affairs gives an update

Author Stefanie Nysand - 27.8.2023

It has been 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.

With regard to the already existing arena, Finland’s minister for foreign affairs, Elina Valtonen (National Coalition Party), now gives an update:

“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 points out that everything must be done “in accordance with the law” and “that’s why it will take some time”.

In September 2022, a group of well-known real estate developers and investors announced that they not only want Helsinki to have a new arena, but the largest multi-purpose arena for cultural and sports events in Northern Europe. With a capacity of 17,000, the new arena in Helsinki aims to outshine what is currently the largest arena in Northern Europe: Globen (also known as Avicii Arena) in Sweden’s capital Stockholm. The new arena was supposed to be built in the district Suvilahti where the open air festivals Tuska and Flow are held every summer. Originally, both festivals were supposed to look for new locations after their respective 2023 editions, but they were able to announce shortly before their 2023 editions that they would still be around in Suvilahti in 2024, due to “delays in the planned construction schedules” for said district:

“The City of Helsinki has announced delays in the planned construction schedules for Suvilahti. Due to the delays, Flow Festival will be arranged in Suvilahti still in August 2024. The plans for the festival from 2025 onward remain open.”

– Flow Festival

The new arena is no longer affected by the delays, though, as the City of Helsinki announced already in May 2023 that “a multipurpose arena is not suitable for the Suvilahti area”:

“A very large multipurpose arena would not fit in the area without the city having to give up the values of the built-up cultural environment and the goal of organizing festivals and other large outdoor events in the area.”

– The City of Helsinki

While the planned Suvilahti event area “Suvilahti Event Hub” will be built without the new arena, said arena is now supposed to be located in Hanasaari, a neighbourhood in the district Sörnäinen.

Another arena in Helsinki, Garden Helsinki (also referred to as “Helsinki Garden” on its website), seems to be aiming for the title “largest arena in Northern Europe” as well. Previously, there was talk of “roughly 10,500 seats and over a hundred gallery boxes for the events”. Now, it should be up to 19,000 visitors at concerts and 15,000 visitors at ice hockey games. At the same time, Garden Helsinki, which has been in the making since several years, strives for being “the most modern event arena in the world”. It will be located in the district Taka-Töölö, swallowing up parts of the adjacent Helsinki Ice Hall. The construction costs are estimated to be 640 million euros.