How has the past year treated you and what are your plans for the future?
"The past year was – although the Euro-crisis dominated the whole real estate market – a good year for ECE. We opened newly developed centers and enlarged our portfolio by establishing a joint venture with Metro for retail warehouses/hybrid centers.
"As a leading company in the European shopping center industry, we would like to further expand our portfolio. 14 new shopping centers are currently under construction or planned throughout Europe. Forum-Mittelrhein in Koblenz and Marmara Park in Istanbul will be opened in 2012. Also, construction will soon start for the €550 million mixed-use project Milaneo in Stuttgart. It is scheduled to open in spring 2015."
What are your views on the European retail real estate market from a developer’s point of view and from that of an investor?
"Both from the view of a developer and an investor times remain challenging as the Euro crisis is not over yet and limits the possibility to receive financing for projects or center acquisitions for most of the market participants. Fortunately, due to its private ownership-based company profile and the success story in the past ECE is still able to overcome this shortage.
"For the German development market it is very obvious that the time of big developments is becoming more and more difficult – but there are still chances to come… and especially refurbishment projects will get into the focus of developers and investors."
Is there anything that you are looking for as a business at the moment, in terms of new partners, new investors, or other markets?
"Last year we founded MEC, a joint venture with Metro, in order to further develop their 36 retail parks. This is a very interesting portfolio of favorably situated centers with appreciation potential. We will now develop these properties step by step. We also established our own real estate fund ‘ECE European Prime Shopping Centre Fund’. The fund concentrates on the acquisition of existing shopping centers with appreciation potential in Europe. Further investment focus is placed on revitalization and modernization."
In terms of countries, are you looking to exit certain countries and focus more on others?
"Generally, we are focusing on Europe in the next years. In Germany and Austria there is a stable development and high demand for core products, in Southern Europe it is slightly decreasing. In Eastern Europe the picture is uneven, in Hungary the situation continues to be difficult. The Polish economy is developing positively – it was even growing in the financial crisis: the unemployment rate clearly decreased, consumption is high. Therefore, Poland remains a very profitable market for investors. ECE recently opened its sixth center in Szczecin. It is difficult in Bulgaria and Romania at the moment. A real growth market for us is Turkey."
What differentiates your business from the competition?
"ECE employs specialists of all real estate-relevant sections. Thus, we are uniting all competences regarding properties under one roof – from first ideas up to long-term management. Our credo: everything from one source.”