Finding fortune between the forest and the sea
A business hub on the Baltic Coast is reaping the rewards of a far-sighted decision taken in difficult times.
When Maciej Grabski — today the CEO of Olivia Business Centre and successful entrepreneur — bought the plot almost 10 years ago, it certainly raised a few eyebrows. While the aftermath of the Lehmann crash still wreaked havoc on the world’s financial markets, Olivia Business Centre’s vision of a eight-ten building business park in the genteel district of Oliwa on the outskirts of the 2nd-tier Polish city of Gdańsk, famed for its villas and the summer organ recitals, seemed far-fetched, even reckless.
But now, as the 156-metre Olivia Star office tower – the latest stage in the Olivia Business Centre scheme – nears its June completion date, with almost 90 percent of its 44,000 sqm space either leased or reserved, the buyers have been fully vindicated. “No-one else had that kind of vision,” says Jake Jephcott, the company’s Business Development Director. “While the purchase may have seemed reckless to some, we knew the area and the region intimately. It’s right next to the university, in the middle of the Tri-city metropolis. From the beginning we knew it was going to be at least eight buildings, and our vision was to build a mix of residents to really create a unique atmosphere”, he adds. The company refers to tenants as residents.
Olivia leans towards companies with an IT bent, as well as being home to major international and Polish brands like PKO Bank Polski, Amazon, PwC and ThyssenKrupp. “We see ourselves as being able to create relationships between different types of companies, which is always stimulating for those companies. We see it as cross-pollination between fields, which is increasingly the way the business world is going”.
Maciej Kotarski, Olivia’s Leasing Director, says that seeing the surrounding area from high up has given him a new appreciation of the Tri-City. “At higher than 100m you really see the whole area in a new way – you can see the real nature of the place. I had never before realized how narrow the area is between the hill forest and the sea,” he says. Kotarski cannot hide his pride in the scheme. “Olivia Star, which we call the ‘Beauty of the North’, is very different to other buildings. The floor plate is very narrow – we think it’s slim and beautiful, but it also means that people who work there get a lot of natural sunlight. It has a triple-glass façade and the façade is openable, so you get fresh air – the first and only office building to have this in Poland.”
‘At higher than 100m you really see the whole area in a new way.’
At the base of Olivia Star is a Winter Garden which covers almost 1000 sqm and has a height of 12m, the idea behind it being that the natural area where people can relax shouldn’t only be available in the summer. “We don’t accept winter,” says Kotarski, and you almost feel he’s not joking. According to Kotarski, the company is in no hurry now to lease the remaining floors at the top, just under the floors which will be open to the public, right at the top of the tower. The three highest floors will offer an external terrace, cafe, a restaurant and event space for up to 400 people. Tenants which have committed to Olivia Star include Nordea, Fujifilm, Schibsted (the nordic media giant), IT companies SII and Goyello, as well as flight-compensation company Airhelp. The company is already planning the next step of development, Olivia Seven, which is under construction.
Jephcott believes that no-one else in the real estate industry could have, or would have, done this project. “The team behind Olivia weren’t in real estate originally – we are all business people rather than property people. I don’t think property people would have taken the decision that we did, a decision that was perceived to be risky, when in fact it wasn’t. But it did defy real estate logic,” he states. Logic, it seems, isn’t always applicable in this industry.