Vladivostok, the mythical terminus of the Trans-Siberian railway, is being turned upside down in a huge rebuilding project that aims to turn the city into the Russian Far East\'s answer to Istanbul or San Francisco. A city closed to foreigners under the Soviet Union due to its hosting of the Pacific Fleet, Vladivostok suffered after the USSR collapse as inhabitants left, buildings crumbled and it acquired a seedy reputation for mafia crime. But in one of the Kremlin\'s most wildly ambitious construction projects, the city currently resembles a vast building site as vast new hotel complexes, highways and two bridges are built to host a major summit in 2012. And as if welcoming leaders including the US president at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit was not enough, the meeting is due to be held on an island outside Vladivostok that has never been connected to the mainland. Russki Ostrov (Russian Island) has until now been a sleepy verdant area popular largely with daytrippers and nature lovers who make the journey by ferry. All that will change with the construction of the APEC conference facilities on the island and -- the crowning glory of the entire project -- a gigantic 1.9-kilometre (1.2-mile) bridge to connect it to the mainland. The authorities hope the bridge will become a symbol of the city and the Russian Far East. \"This will be our Golden Gate Bridge, like in San Francisco!\" enthused Alexander Machevsky, the spokesman of Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov who is the government\'s pointman for the project. Just one month after the summit is over, the new complex on the island will host Russia\'s Federal Far Eastern University and its 25,000 students. In the medium term, the university wants to attract some 35,000 students not just from all around Russia but also abroad, according to local Vladivostok official Alexei Moisseyenko. The project goes far beyond the works on Russki Ostrov. Some 43 kilometres of new highway are being built, currently causing horrific traffic jams, as well as a new airport terminal. A barely less ambitious bridge of 1.4 kilometres is also being built across Vladivostok\'s Golden Horn inlet which should relieve the city of the traffic congestion that has become a daily trauma for residents. Officials are proud to boast the city will be the Istanbul of the Far East, a regional hub replete with magnificent suspension bridges. The cost, naturally, is astronomical. The federal programme sets out $20 billion in spending but according to Moisseyenko even this is going to be overshot. Some 23,000 workers are now working round the clock to ensure that the facilities are finished on time, though strikes over unpaid wages have caused some delays. And in one bizarre incident this summer, Muslim migrant workers from ex-Soviet Central Asia downed tools in protest at not being allowed to bring alcohol onto the site to celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan. But the stakes are high. The ultimate aim of the project is to reverse a major population decline that risks harming Russia\'s hold on a region next door to a resurgent China. The project is championed by Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, keenly aware of the need to show the strength of Russia\'s Far East to its Asian neighbours. According to Machevsky, the authorities want to make the city a metropolis of one million people. Currently the population is 600,000. To reach this aim, massive investment is going to be needed. \"We are hoping to attract 300 billion rubles ($9.3 billion) annually compared with 120 billion ($3.7 billion) at the moment,\" Sergei Darkin, the governor of the Primorye region of which Vladivostok is part, told AFP. The construction has caused inevitable controversy in the city but many residents are happy to acknowledge that Vladivostok\'s ramshackle infrastructure was in dire need of change. \"It\'s great for the development of the city,\" said one local, Larissa Kovalenko, 40. Viktor Chernikov, a pensioner, was also happy, even if he believed there was still a lot to be done.\"Now residential buildings need to be built,\" he said. Most controversial is the hosting of the APEC summit itself in September 2012, an event that will only last a few days yet is the main focus of the construction efforts. \"A huge sum has gone into the building on Russki Ostrov and the building of bridges that are going to be of little use except for the summit,\" said Natalya Zubarevich, expert at the Independent Institute of Social Policy. \"This money could have been spent in the reconstruction of the infrastructure of the city itself or in the service sector. Then Vladivostok would have had a chance to integrate itself within the Asia Pacific region.\".