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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » March 3, 2014
The Real Estate Voice
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Pioneering Progress
March 3, 2014   
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Jarosław Zagórski, commercial and business development director for developer Ghelamco Poland, talks to Marcin Kłosowski.

How long has your company been in Poland? What kind of experience have you gathered over this time?
Ghelamco came to Poland over 23 years ago. The market has evolved since then and we’ve been able to both take part in the changes and pioneer many of them. A lot has changed since 1991. Buildings are different now, there are different technological standards and trends in office space arrangement and, most importantly, tenants have different expectations than before.

One of the things that have earned Ghelamco its strong position on the market is that we’ve always watched all changes carefully and been flexible in responding to them. This approach has enabled us to develop and deliver almost 500,000 square meters of space and sell projects worth over 1.2 billion euros. As a leading developer, we have also helped work out new standards for Poland’s real estate market. For example, we promoted the concept of a business park and were the first to use BREEAM green certificates in our buildings.

Have there been any milestones for Ghelamco since it came to Poland?
When I look back at all the years we’ve been in Poland, there have been many such milestones. One was the first large project we built in Warsaw in 2002, the Bitwy Warszawskiej Business Center. Then, there are the business parks in Mokotów and the prestigious Senator office building, where tradition meets modernity. A crucial moment for us came in 2010 when we obtained the first BREEAM certificate in Poland. Last year, in turn, we obtained Poland’s first BREEAM “Excellent” certificate for the T-Mobile Office Park. That further strengthened our position as the leader in sustainable construction in Poland.

Exceptional projects we have carried out include, of course, the Warsaw Spire. At 100,000 square meters of space, this is the largest office complex currently under construction in Europe, offering a unique combination of a business center with public space. Packed with restaurants, cafes, greenery and artistic installations, the site will become a new meeting point for Warsaw residents. You will find such attention to urban and public space in practically all our projects. We’ve always been doing our best to create a friendly space around our buildings by investing in plants, fountains and street furniture. The Warsaw Spire will, of course, have all of that and in forms and quantities that haven’t been seen before.

Your projects have made their mark on Polish cities. Are you planning any other high-profile projects in the same vein as the Warsaw Spire?
Our projects have been transforming postindustrial areas in Warsaw for years, turning them into state-of-the-art business districts such as those in Mokotów and Wola. But the Warsaw Spire is a totally new kind of project, one that helps create a new business site that redefines the center of Warsaw. I should mention that this is the first project in Warsaw’s history after World War II to transform a part of the city this large.

Projects that shape the city fabric are part of the general strategy of the Ghelamco Group. The practical side of this strategy is best exemplified by the Ghelamco Arena stadium that was opened last year in Ghent, Belgium. Complete with office buildings, a shopping mall and a hotel, the stadium offers new space where people can work and go for entertainment.

What are Ghelamco’s plans for the near future? Are offices still your top priority?
Office real estate will remain a key market segment for us. Our plans for the coming years include several new projects that we will deliver in key business locations in Warsaw. Naturally, we are currently focusing on constructing the Warsaw Spire and finding tenants for it.

We will also develop “open air” centers that combine retail space with service outlets. The first of these is Plac Vogla, to be constructed in the Wilanów district, followed by Prochownia Łomianki and Pasaż Tukanów in Piaseczno. We also hope to soon be able to start renovating two historic town houses on Foksal Street in Warsaw. They will rank among the most prestigious residential addresses in Warsaw.

Is environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient technology the future of offices and shopping malls?
Ghelamco’s portfolio in Poland contains almost 190,000 square meters of BREEAM-certified office space. We’re developing all our projects in conformity with this certification system. We have embraced energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly materials, technology and solutions as standard a long time ago and now this is also becoming the norm on the market. But an office building should offer much more than green technology, which is why Ghelamco looks at projects from the broader perspective of a sustainable development strategy. Aside from ensuring superb technical parameters and functionality, is vital to make buildings part of a bigger urban plan. As far as urban development is concerned, every good project should become an asset and new buildings should above all take into account the needs of people, that is the end users.

A Market Ready for Some Luxury

Andrzej Kaczmarek, CEO of developer Powi¶le Park, the investor behind the Apartamenty Na Powi¶lu housing estate:
Twenty-five years after the developer sector started taking shape in Poland, after several crises and turbulence in financial and legal regulations, the real estate market is often perceived as a market that is still short of one million apartments—a problem further aggravated by demographics and a failure to address people’s real needs (small apartments are in short supply). But in my opinion, in order to get the full picture of the market you also need to look at the bright side of the situation and aspects that foster development. To begin with, the so-called Developers Act that came into effect in April 2012 ensures safer transactions for customers, so that buyers are gradually becoming less afraid that apartments they have paid for will not be completed and delivered. Second, the banking supervision authority has launched mechanisms to curb risks associated with mortgage loans: as of 2014, borrowers are required to pay a deposit totaling a certain percentage of the loan and many restrictions have been introduced on taking out loans in foreign currencies. As a result of these changes, the Polish real estate market has become more mature and, consequently, ready for new, bolder projects. Innovative and special projects are becoming increasingly popular not only among customers who seek unique apartments for themselves, but also among investors who want to put their capital into the real estate market.

A good indicator of the state of the market are exclusive apartments. This market segment is setting new trends, working with the best architects and utilizing high-end materials and new technology. Exclusive apartments are where the most expensive solutions are first introduced and at the end of the day, such solutions mean better comfort for residents. Developers of projects aimed at less affluent customers are highly unlikely to use inventive construction technology and installations. This market is stimulated by rich customers who demand a lot and are willing to pay for it. They shape the market with their buying choices. But at present, the range of available options is rather limited. Innovative projects such as the Apartamenty Na Powi¶lu housing estate, which offers a cutting-edge air-conditioning system and a water treatment facility, cannot change the fact that there aren’t many projects that stand out among the competition in terms of advanced technology. But our experience with Apartamenty Na Powi¶lu shows that buyers accept new and above-average solutions and that is the direction in which the Polish real estate market will evolve. The market is ready for this.
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