A new symbol of Gdańsk

The city is set to broaden its appeal with the development of an aquarium

Thanks to its history and location – and as the welcome for William and Kate so visibly demonstrated – Gdańsk is a friendly and open city. Its importance as a Baltic Sea port brought seafarers from across Europe and beyond, becoming Poland’s melting pot and ensuring a legacy that lives to this day. The city opens its arms to visitors and companies alike, and both tourism and business are growing strongly. It’s against this backdrop that Arena Gdańsk, the owner of the city’s Energa Gdańsk Stadium and the surrounding area, is planning a major leisure investment to offer residents and visitors year-round entertainment, and to further revitalize the Letnica district in which it lies.

“Gdańsk defines its development through tourism and the leisure industry,” says Andrzej Bojanowski, President of Arena Gdańsk. “That is why we are planning an investment of this kind. We think an oceanarium, a water park or a similarly sea-related scheme will be a new, all-year attraction for our residents and guests alike, as well as creating new jobs for young people”.

Poland Today sat down with four leading figures in the city’s municipal and business world to discuss the project and its wider context: Aleksandra Dulkiewicz, The Vice Mayor of Gdańsk, Kornelia Bargielska, Representative of the Board of the city’s investment agency InvestGDA, Kornelia Łukaszewska, Leasing Manager for developer Echo Investment, and Błażej Kucharski, Regional Director for Colliers International. All are from the area, and local patriotism was not in short supply.

I understand that the project is going to be an aquarium – is that correct?

Aleksandra Dulkiewicz: It does look like this, but it still needs to be finalized. It’s a serious offer – we can see the partner (PFI Future) is very well prepared. They undertook major market research and have prepared a project that is complimentary to the zoo in Oliwa, for example. The surrounding area of Letnica is developing very fast, and this is very important element of the project – to contribute to the local environment. The recently-completed tunnel under the Vistula River has made a huge difference (ed. the Tadeusz Gocłowski tunnel, opened in April 2016), and it’s also important that private investors are starting to build flats nearby. The area is developing wonderfully.

Kornelia Łukaszewska: The tunnel, which was opened about a year ago, has helped the whole city significantly. It’s amazing how much of a positive impact it has had on traffic flow in the city centre. It has changed everything. The European Solidarity Centre has also had a major impact, but in a different way.

How important is it for the city to create a landmark with the new project?

Aleksandra Dulkiewicz: It’s very important. Neptune is not the only symbol of Gdańsk any more. The stadium is a new symbol of Gdańsk, so is the European Solidarity Centre and the Shakespeare theatre, so will be the Museum of the Second World War. I’m sure this new project will become a major symbol of the city too. Just as our ancestors gave us St. Mary’s Church, we must leave monuments for our grandchildren. The architecture is very important but hasn’t been decided on yet. There will be a lot of greenery and it will be environmentally-friendly.

Błażej Kucharski: What’s important for the success of the project is the scale – it must be big. If this project will be multi-functional and on a large scale, it will have a positive energy, and it will even have an impact on the investment market. Regional cities are currently attractive for investment products. This year will see more investment activity in the Tri-City market.

Round table discussion in Stadium Energa Gdańsk.

What’s the connection between a project like the aquarium and the real estate investment market?

Kornelia Bargielska: We have to find a balance between initiatives for business and for local inhabitants. We are always ready to help businesses, but this kind of leisure place is attractive for our inhabitants – and of course for tourists too. We must remember that we are a metropolis, so we need a product of significant scale. This project is perfect because of its accessibility thanks to the tunnel, but also – on a broader scale – the airport. Sometimes with huge projects there are problems finding a balance between the public, business and inhabitants, but with this project, there does seem to be that balance.

Kornelia Łukaszewska: The focus now is on people – everything now revolves around people. In office projects, for example, there have to be public spaces as well.

Aleksandra Dulkiewicz: Polish people are changing their lifestyles. We are spending more time outside our houses, we travel a lot, and we demand and expect more from our public spaces.

Kornelia Bargielska: Did you know that Gdańsk is Poland’s leader in terms of bicycle paths. We have around 700 km of bicycle paths in the city. It takes me 30 minutes to cycle to work from home and the route is beautiful, along the sea. In Gdańsk there really is an alternative to driving.

What can the city of Gdańsk do to attract more business and tourists?

Kornelia Bargielska: We do things like the FETA festival (the International Street and Open-Air Theatres Festival). People come from all around the world to take part and to watch – the atmosphere is fantastic.

Błażej Kucharski: In business terms, the AMBEREXPO Exhibition and Convention Centre has made a big impact on local economic life.

Chinese investors are on the radar of most cities, and they care very much about infrastructure – they won’t even look at a city without good infrastructure and infrastructure plans. What are Gdańsk’s plans for infrastructure development?

Aleksandra Dulkiewicz: These projects can be financed or co-financed by external sources and it’s important for us to prepare projects which can be co-financed by EU funds. For example, we are starting to build a new tramline along a new road in the southern part of the city – the so-called Nowa Bulońska street. In addition, we are improving the balance of public transportation in Gdańsk, including the cycle paths. Five years ago, 2% of people travelled to work by bike, now it’s 6%. That is an amazing increase in five years.

Kornelia Łukaszewska: As an inhabitant of Gdańsk, I’ve seen how amazingly Gdańsk has developed over the last few years.

What about the area beyond the forest? Most cities can expand in all directions, but Gdańsk doesn’t really have that option.

Aleksandra Dulkiewicz: We can expand only in one direction – towards the south. It’s an important priority for Gdańsk to expand from the lower terrace of the city, where we are now, to the upper terrace behind the forest. We have roads there, we have tram and railway connections, but this is not enough. We opened the train line to the airport in 2015. It’s a big challenge to connect these two parts.

Błażej Kucharski: The pool of talent determines the success of this region. Poland is number one in shared services and BPO. Many companies are still looking for new locations in the Polish market and they want to open in regional cities. One is Gdańsk because we have a great quality of life, good infrastructure – including stadiums, theatres etc – but we still need to develop in education. This is very important and I think the market is waiting for good decisions made by the authorities, the high schools, and also business. This will give acceleration to more investments. Luckily we have smart authorities. The public sector and business act as one team.

Kornelia Łukaszewska: This is true! Our most recent client, Svarovski, who opened a shared service centre in Gdańsk, told us that the city was not originally on its short-list, but they decided to come here because of its quality of life and culture, and because they find it to be similar to their family business culture and beliefs.

Błażej Kucharski: Nordea said the same thing. They know that this is a very friendly market.

Kornelia Łukaszewska: People always say their city is the best, but Gdańsk really is the best (laughter).

Kornelia Bargielska: Often, business service centre employees are quite young, and they will go on to have kids. The aquarium will be an excellent attraction to help keep them in Gdańsk. We have good schools, we have a good location, and of course the climate. But it’s true that in December there can be a problem with what to do during the short winter days. The aquarium will help address this.

PFI Future is a Polish company. Was this an important factor in the choice of investor?

Aleksandra Dulkiewicz: That wasn’t a factor – there were no guidelines as to whether it would be a Polish or foreign company.

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Written by: Richard Stephens

Richard Stephens founded Poland Today in 2012 to help bring Poland to the world and the world to Poland. Before this he was editor of Eurobuild CEE magazine in his first stint with the company, and then returned to conceive and establish The Eurobuild Awards, organizing the first two editions. He has a degree in Theology & Religious Studies from Bristol University in the UK.