Economic experts have said that the new Polus City Center is likely to be a success.
photo: Zuzana Habšudová
"The Polus City Center is the first example of a standard retail centre in Bratislava, and can lure more investment into the city," said Milan Vajda, spokesman for Bratislava Old Town. He added that the project will have an inevitable impact for his district of the city. "It is the first project of its kind finished in Bratislava and it is important for us, because it shows that great projects like these are possible."
Polus City Center - owned by the Polus Investment Company in Slovakia, a daughter company of the Canadian-Hungarian TriGránit Development Corporation and financed through a syndicated loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) - is, according to TriGránit representatives, an indication of how positively foreign investors now view Slovakia.
Construction of the 100,000 square metre centre - including eight movie screens, a bowling alley, offices, residential flats and parking lots - began in January last year. Its first phase (out of three planned to be completed by March 2001) will be finished before the November 22 opening ceremony, and includes only the shopping and entertainment centre.
Jana Ferenčáková from Polus Investment's marketing department explained that the purpose of the new project was to give its visitors everything Bratislava has to offer, but under one roof. "We have a lot of interest from firms wanting to open branches here. The portfolio of firms here varies from post offices, banks, restaurants and cinemas to really whatever shop a customer can think of," she said.
Despite the fact that the project is situated in the middle of the Bratislava's New Town, four kilometres north-east of Bratislava's centre with an entrance on one of Bratislava's main streets, Vajnorská, and more than 100,000 citizens living in the district alone, some people have still questioned the timing of the investment.
According to Igor Fedoroňko, statutory representative of the Bratislava Real Estate Office (BRK), Bratislava is already inundated with more supermarkets than it can absorb. He added that only time would show if the economic climate was ripe for such an investment.
"I would be really surprised if all eight cinema halls burst at the seams. There are already too many supermarkets and similar projects in Bratislava. I just cannot imagine to what extent the Polus Center will be used and when the [investment] input will return."
However, economic analysts have said new shopping and service trends growing in Bratislava, combined with a switch in consumer buying patterns, could help make the Polus City Center a financial success.
"I consider it to be a significant success, but the whole process is completely natural and should have started long before," said Ján Tóth, analyst at ING Barings in Bratislava.
"Bratislava is in a phase when it needs something like this. And it's vital for the whole of Slovakia to move in this direction of having hypermarkets and shopping centres. The situation with retail centres in surrounding countries, such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, is dramatically different and it's natural for Slovakia to have more supermarkets and catch up."
Tóth added that Bratislava's standard of living was actually higher than the overall EU average, as was the case with Prague, and that purchasing power in Bratislava was strong.
Miloš Božek, analyst at J & T Securities in Bratislava, said that people's purchasing preferences had changed, most likely to the advantage of Polus. "They are switching from spending on durable goods such as cars, to non-durables as Polus is mainly offering. People have money to live and spend, so they may in the end just decide to switch from shopping in other stores to shopping at Polus," he said.
"The trend is now to go to hypermarkets and bigger stores," he added.
Tóth warned though that the Polus City Center, success or not, would fulfill only one part of Slovakia's investment needs.
"Investing into retail shopping centres is nice for the citizens - there is comfortable shopping and entertainment and food prices can drop. But such invesment supports consumption rather than saving. For Slovakia, investing into manufacturing, such as the VW plant [a recently approved 2.7 billion crown auto production facility in Lozorno], is far more important than foreign investments coming into the retail sector," he said.