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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has a new plan for a huge central Moscow lot that has been vacant since a sprawling Soviet-era hotel was razed: a park.
Several ideas have been hatched for the prime piece of real estate off Red Square since the Hotel Rossiya, a white-walled warren of more than 3,000 rooms that was seen by many Muscovites as an eye sore, shut its doors in 2006.
They have included a mixed-use complex with a hotel and office and retail spaces, and an administrative center that could contain a new parliament building and government headquarters.
Putin changed those plans with a few words on Friday.
"You know what I was thinking? Practically all parkland in the heart of Moscow has been built over in the past decades," Putin told Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin as they looked over the site by the Moscow River.
""I have the following proposal ... maybe create a park zone here," Putin said.
The site will become central Moscow's largest park if Putin gets his way.
He usually does. Putin, president from 2000-2008 and now prime minister, is expected to be back in the Kremlin again next year -- across Red Square from the former hotel site --- after a March 4 presidential vote.
Sobyanin is a loyal longtime ally of Putin. His response to the proposal?
"That would be great."
A few hours later, Moscow authorities said they would announce a competition next week seeking bids to develop the site as a park.
An old Moscow neighborhood was demolished and its residents displaced to make way for the Hotel Rossiya, built in the 1960s.
Writing by Steve Gutterman, editing by Paul Casciato