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BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary has finalised plans to create a new museum quarter at Budapest's City Park by 2019 that should boost the capital's appeal to international tourists, the project's commissioner said on Monday.
Laszlo Baan told a parliamentary hearing the 200 billion forints ($710.28 million) project would draw an extra 300,000 tourists to Budapest annually, helping it compete with other popular European destinations such as Prague and Barcelona.
The entire City Park area, which already includes the Budapest Zoo, Szechenyi thermal baths, extensive green spaces and four museums around its Heroes' Square entrance, will be renovated, the MTI news agency quoted him as saying.
The project will include a new National Gallery, a House of Hungarian Music and a state-of-the art restoration and storage building. A museum of photography and another dedicated to architecture will be built elsewhere in Budapest, Baan said.
International architectural firms involved in the project include Norway's Snohetta, which designed part of the September 11 Memorial Museum in New York, and SANAA, the Japanese architects of the Louvre-Lens Museum, according to the project's web site.
The new development will partly replace a wide concrete promenade that was used during the Communist era as a parade ground and has mostly languished as a car park since then.
Critics - political opponents, architects, environmental lobbyists and local citizen groups - have called the project politically motivated, unnecessary and expensive, and said it would eat into green areas in the capital.
Baan dismissed those claims, saying the museums will only use areas already covered by concrete. The City Park might also be linked to the city center by a green corridor, he said.
With 2 million residents in its center and suburbs, Budapest is one of the largest cities in central and Eastern Europe. Two other large cities in the region, Vienna and Berlin, have also consolidated and expanded their art offerings in dedicated museum quarters.
Budapest, which also stages an annual Formula 1 Grand Prix race and one of Europe's leading pop music festivals, Sziget, has an ambitious development outlook including its candidacy to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Michael Roddy and Tom Heneghan