After 16 years of activity in Serbia, I can say that – as AFI Europe – we are now leading the real estate market in many aspects. Not just as one of the biggest real estate developers in the country, but also as one trying to find the right path, pioneering and paving the way for many other developers and investors in the real estate segment, says Mr. Adir El Al, CEO of AFI Europe Serbia
We began the development of mega projects, as well as the new concept of mixed-use projects, over 16 years ago with the globally-recognised Airport City. Next, we continued with Central Garden, lying in the heart of the Serbian capital. Central Garden has brought us great success, by selling-out all the apartments, and using the remaining area for leasing a modernised office building. Finally, our diamond mega project — the state of the art landmark called Skyline Belgrade, is a momentous mixed-use project.
Skyline is considered significant for our mother company, AFI Europe and AFI Properties, which emphasises the market importance of Serbia in relation to our other developments and activities in Eastern Europe. For this reason we are raising and investing a lot of funds for each of our projects, trying to create value for the company as well as the country. Our shareholders proudly consider us here as a very successful operation.
Did 2019 meet your expectations – personally and in business terms; and how would you assess the past decade?
Reflecting upon the past decade, I identify many accomplishments and overall success. Considering the infamous economic recession, we managed to overcome and advance from each obstacle that was in our way. Approaching the market professionally and conservatively, we strived (and continue to strive) to develop construction at the pace and magnitude that has solidified our status as the leader of the real estate market in Serbia. 2019 has also met the expectations and goals set at the start of the year, finishing the first tower of our mega-project, Skyline Belgrade, as well as new buildings and welcoming internationally-known companies in Airport City. In conclusion, we intend to continue our growth and to expand greatly in Serbia, as we see huge potential in this market.
How about the future; are the upcoming ‘twenties’ going to be exciting and ‘roaring’, and what challenges do you expect them to bring?
The future will definitely be very exciting for the market in Serbia. I think a few more investors have also recognised the potential, seeing as they are coming in, bringing money to invest, and are willing to develop the real estate sector. You can see cranes all over the city, which I think is one of the first indicators that an economy is growing. As an example, through our accomplishments and activity in Belgrade today, we are giving an opportunity to thousands of workers, suppliers and construction contractors by creating jobs and investing money. This is a very prominent indicator of market growth. I think that the years to come will be at least as challenging as the past few years, during which we contributed to the growth of the economy, and the real estate sector in particular.
If we sum up all the projects we have developed so far in Belgrade, we are reaching approximately a billion euros of investment, and I expect that investment to double over the next 5-10 years
ACB has become one of the major landmarks of not just New Belgrade, but our capital city as a whole. How difficult is to continue to be “new” and innovative in such a competitive and dynamic environment as commercial real estate in New Belgrade?
You touch on a very interesting point, as it is not easy to be innovative in a market that is usually very traditional. Even though it is not easy, I believe that our accomplishments speak for themselves, as we manage to produce new and innovative ideas in this dynamic environment. I can credit a portion of our success to our corporate policy of choosing the best and most fitting people to work with us. This allows us to generate creativity, and furthermore provides us with the understanding of our clients’ needs, as well as complying and satisfying their demands. We believe that our clients deserve a pleasant and gratifying experience when investing their money in apartments as well as companies for office space.
What is ACB’s future regarding development?
The future development of ACB is looking brighter than ever. We own a huge block of land around the existing buildings, on which we plan to continue developing office buildings. We are starting a new project in the coming weeks, which will feature a considerable new building in the western block. In addition to this, we are in the process of creating a new conceptual design for another plot that we purchased recently, also on the western part of ACB. This plan consists of building three more office buildings, sizing at approximately 70,000 to 80,000 square meters each. Alongside this, in the eastern block (Omladniskih Brigada Street) we confirmed an urban project, which will allow us to build three more commercial buildings. We plan to develop this (eastern) side of the project in the coming 5-6 years, starting as of next year.
ACB is now in its ‘teens’… How is its Belgrade Skyline ‘offspring’ advancing?
We are remarkably satisfied with the Skyline project. Embarking upon it in 2016, and investing an immense amount of money in order to buy the land and create the optimal concept for it. We undertook this challenge with full confidence and an idea of what will potentially be a landmark in the capital of Serbia. We did this by relying mostly on our successful past experiences, knowledge, as well as complying with the national and city government bodies. I can clearly state that Skyline Belgrade is a mixed-use mega project on any scale. Under two years of hard work, we are thrilled to hand over the first phase of the project — with the first tenants moving into Tower A as of January 2020. We are overly-satisfied with this achievement, and have hence confirmed the continuation of the development of the project in the upcoming 2-3 years.
So many “powerful” brands and businesses have opted to choose ACB as their home, and I suppose that is itself the best advertisement for your offer. Are there any new and exciting partners on the horizon?
I completely agree that the most effective advertisement of ACB are the names of the tenants who choose to come here. Recently, we welcomed several globallyknown companies to the new buildings, including Bosch, Siemens, Huawei, and Etihad Airways. ACB is truly a “City within a city,” as we aim to provide all the facilities to not only meet, but exceed our clients’ needs. Our well-known business park is surely a great concept, promptly being adopted all over the world over the last couple of years. We are very proud to recognise that many complexes are being built based on the concept we pioneered here at Airport City Belgrade.
Are you planning any other projects that we can expect to emerge in Belgrade in the future?
As I mentioned, we are always searching for new development, and although I cannot reveal the specific plans or locations of the future projects, I can tell you that we will come out with information about a major new project very soon.
What would be your message to our readers as we welcome 2020?
Stability will bring prosperity. I wish stability for this country, as stability will establish the confidence that the people of Serbia can rely on and therefore stay and develop their country by growing their businesses and raising their families here. Stability is the name of the game in the modern world. To prove this point, I can point out an example that even for us to raise funds abroad, one of the main factors that banks look for and analyse in the country of operation is its stability. It is upon the combination of this factor with a couple of other important points of interest, that the banks calculate their confidence, leading to the interest rates, rate of returns, and so on.