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The Warsaw Voice » Real Estate » October 31, 2013
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Looking for Opportunities
October 31, 2013   
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James Turner, managing director of Balmain Asset Management, an owner, asset manager and developer of shopping centers in Poland, talks to Marcin Kłosowski.

What are Balmain’s plans for Poland?
We predominantly seek existing, well located shopping center investment opportunities, but which also have a need for improvement or extension. We try to be active in our management and ownership of assets and make them as relevant for their customer base as possible. Shopping centers are dynamic, people-centric environments, which makes them a very interesting investment class. Because of this, the ability to work with retailers and change with the times gives rise to many opportunities. We are very much committed to Poland and continued expansion around the country.

What exactly are you planning?
There are a number of substantial and exciting shopping center investments that we are presently working on. We have already started construction on Galeria Galardia in Starachowice, which is a Tesco-anchored new development that includes the Helios Cinema, Media Expert, Rossmann and LPP brands. We are working closely with our funding partner, NBGI, and will soon be announcing even more retailers. The extension of Galeria Pomorska in Bydgoszcz is now being progressed by the owner, Resolution Property Advisors. Pomorska is a special property for Balmain, being our first investment into Poland dating, back to 2004. In Olsztyn, in a project for Rockspring, we are modernizing the Aura shopping center, formerly the Alfa Centrum—the rebranding process was finalized at the beginning of October. We have also replaced the Rast (Bomi) supermarket at the site with an Alma Delicatessen and brought in a new Inditex brand, Bershka. Also for Rockspring we are responsible for the 2,500 sq m extension of the Ferio shopping center in Stare Miasto, near Konin. The whole extension is 100 percent leased. In Zielona Góra, our CWW retail park is complete and open. Further development plans will be announced shortly regarding other properties in the portfolio we manage.

We are extremely busy, but we are looking for more ways to bring investment into the Polish shopping center market all the time.

Do you aim to invest mainly in retail space?
The definition of what is “retail” is becoming more fluid as technology further becomes part of the norm of how we shop. I think our opportunity and challenge is to understand how this will play out in our physical property investment and development decisions. We are trying to think laterally about these opportunities and will be working closer to retailers and investors to look at how best to invest in the new retail paradigm.

What do you think are the prospects of the real estate market in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland?
Poland shares more in common these days with Western European markets on many fronts, but retains its role as the most important CEE real estate market. This is an important bridge between the two general markets and should benefit Poland as the central point and headquarters for many expanding retailers in the future. At the moment, however, the economic climates of many other CEE countries other than Poland are holding back investment and growth prospects in these countries.

What’s the future of the commercial real estate market? The modernization of existing shopping centers or opening new ones?
Both. On one hand, investors and developers need to work with local authorities to ensure that existing shopping centers are given priority in terms of expansion and modernization, ahead of new-build sites where the new proposition is more or less an updated version of the old. The regeneration benefits and the use of existing infrastructure must be taken seriously.

On the other hand, provision of more modern retail facilities (particularly where none currently exist) is also an essential driver of employment and community pride. The regenerative benefit that new-build facilities can bring is very significant to wider communities.
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