Not since the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire has growth in the Slovak capital Bratislava been influenced by Austrian developers as much as it is today.
About half a dozen Austrian-backed developers have successfully constructed and reconstructed buildings that would still be on drawing boards if not for their participation. Their successes in bringing cash, confidence and tenants to the emerging market will serve as a model for new developers who are likely to come from other countries in the coming year or two.
The Austrians' greatest impact has been felt on the historic streets of Staré Mesto (Old Town), where four developers - RBI, BZ Bau, City Pro, and Brodesseur - have combined to renovate 10 buildings.
RBI, a joint venture involving the Old Town district office and the Austrian bank Creditanstalt, has nearly finished revitalizing three adjacent buildings on Hlavné námestie plus buildings on Sedlárska and Ventúrska. Hearing the district office's aims of livening up Old Town, RBI has worked hard to attract retailers like Benetton, Aquascutum, and Kaffee Mayer.
BZ Bau, in contrast, has Austrian finance and construction professionals as its founding partners and is therefore less tied to the wishes of the public authorities. Accordingly, it has developed buildings on Michalská and Panská to house Československá obchodná banka and the British Embassy, respectively.
City Pro is a combination of Austrian, Slovak and British partners who first rebuilt a building on Prepoštská and then one on Panská. Having done so, they have attracted Avon, Arthur Andersen, Coca-Cola, and the Greek Embassy as tenants.
One promising newcomer with Austrian backing is Roger, a firm run by a repatriated Slovak which is currently reconstructing a multi-functional building on the corner of Námestie SNP and Obchodná ulica. Another Austrian firm trying to complete its first project in Bratislava is Soravia, which is building a shopping center out on Vajnorská.
Given all these firms' accomplishments in Old Town, few alluring buildings remain there, and the development battleground will move out of the center, further toward the city limits.
All developers have been attracted by Bratislava's current market conditions, which allow for sale prices that are relatively high compared to construction costs.
Those are temptations that new foreign developers will not be able to resist, especially now that the Austrians who came early have proven that success can be achieved.
The investors most likely to come next are developers who have had success in neighboring capital cities, people such as Andrew Sarlos in Budapest and Robert Neugröschel in Prague.
Once they arrive, then the market will be totally different: the party that the Austrians started in their back yard could become an international development feast.
11. Sep 1997 at 0:00 | Rick Zedník