In earlier decades and particularly after the break-up of socialist Yugoslavia in the wake of the 1990’s wars in the Balkans, the charm of Serbia’s capital Belgrade did not easily disclose itself to visitors. Grey buildings, poorly maintained infrastructure and underused and neglected urban space made it a place where “development”, “city planning”, “revitalisation” and “growth potential” were seldom heard of in discussions about the city’s future.
This has slowly changed in recent years and especially since the government of Serbia in 2014 introduced Belgrade Waterfront, a massive riverside development project with more than €3 billion (Dh11.7 billion) in investment. Belgrade Waterfront, or Beograd na Vodi (Belgrade on Water) as it is known locally, is being constructed on a prime stretch on the eastern side the Sava River, just before it merges with the Danube River, an area which previously was home to crumbling buildings, railway tracks and industrial units that long bore the wounds of years of large-scale military conflicts.
Plans are now to develop a total of 1.8 million sq m of residential, commercial and recreational space with the backing of Eagle Hills, an Abu Dhabi-based private property investment firm that is financing around two-thirds of the project, with the remainder shouldered by the Serbian government.
The development includes office and luxury apartment buildings, Belgrade Park, Sava Promenada, five-star hotels, Belgrade Mall and Belgrade Tower, also known as Kula Belgrade, which will be the highest structure in the Balkans at 210m and the home to Serbia’s first St Regis Hotel and St Regis Residences.
“Belgrade has a strong heritage and great potential for growth,” says Eagle Hills board member Mohammed Alabbar, who is also Emaar chairman. “Every country needs a strong hub that will attract investments, boost tourism and drive the growth of the economy. We envisage Belgrade Waterfront to be that game-changing city hub for the region, adding significant value to the city.”
PW speaks to Belgrade Waterfront general manager Nikola Nedeljkovic about the impact of Belgrade Waterfront on the Serbian capital’s development landscape.
What made Eagle Hills choose Belgrade as a location for such a development and what is the project’s selling point?
The UAE and Serbia share strong bilateral ties. Eagle Hills recognised Serbia and Belgrade as places with huge development potential. We are sure that Belgrade Waterfront will have a positive impact in terms of contributing to the capital’s touristic potential and to its profiling as a destination for foreign investors.
What is the overall volume of investment?
The total development value is over €3 billion. Financing of the project is managed by Eagle Hills.
Who are the architects, master-plan designers and developer?
The master plan has been developed by CallisonRTKL, in association with SWA Group, which is in charge of Sava Promenada’s landscape. The iconic Kula Belgrade, which will be home to The St Regis Belgrade, is designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, a company famous for designing high-rise buildings that have become the landmarks of the cities they were built in.
The whole project is designed by world-class architects and designers and will be developed to the highest standards. Our consultants have extensive experience in developing mega projects globally. For each object, we try to find the best solution that fits in the surroundings. Besides the well-known international firms, local Serbian companies are also involved in the project.
Can you give a few other key points about the development?
The site area of Belgrade Waterfront is 1 million sq m, and it has a total construction area of 1.8 million sq m. The residential part of Belgrade Waterfront will comprise approximately 6,000 units, which will provide homes for 14,000 people. Various layouts, sizes and accompanying amenities are offered.
What is the timetable for construction?
At this moment we have four active construction sites, with a total construction area of 300,000 sq m. The first residential building within Belgrade Waterfront, BW Residences, has reached 15 of its total 20 floors and it will welcome the first tenants in May next year. We broke ground for the construction of The St Regis Belgrade in April last year. Works have commenced on BW Vista, a residential building, while we are in the initial phase of construction for BW Galerija, soon to be the biggest lifestyle and shopping destination in the region.
Who are your target buyers for this project?
The residential mix in the project appeals to local residents, but also to international buyers who see the purchase of apartments in Belgrade Waterfront as an excellent investment opportunity. These are the people who haven’t invested in Serbia so far and we are glad that they have recognised Serbia, Belgrade and this development as a great opportunity. We have presented our project at some of the most prestigious international real estate shows, such as MIPIM in Cannes and Cityscape Abu Dhabi, as well as in Harrods, London, and the interest was impressive everywhere.
Besides international buyers, we record a vast interest among local residents, as well as among our people in the diaspora, who want to have a home on a premium waterfront location.
How much of the project is already sold?
Since we launched the first residential units, BW Residences and BW Vista, we are proud to share a successful performance. With every successful launch, we are even more convinced that the interest for Belgrade Waterfront will rise, both among potential residents and business professionals. Their wish to invest wisely and to purchase a unique living experience for themselves and their families shows us that we are on the right track.
How has the project been received by the Belgrade public?
As every large-scale project, Belgrade Waterfront has both supporters and people who think that maybe something else could be on this location. Looking back into history, every innovation has caused a division among people. With every construction site we open and with every neglected area we transform into a modern public space, people are more convinced that we are doing the right thing. Citizens needed to see the construction progress in order to believe in a project of this scale.
What will the project contribute to Belgrade in terms of job creation, business activity and other economic benefits?
There are many economic benefits since Belgrade Waterfront will create over 20,000 jobs, provide office space for 12,000 people and will be a strong social and economic growth catalyst of the city. Due to its world-class hotels, such as The St. Regis Belgrade and W Belgrade, Belgrade Waterfront brings a totally new hospitality philosophy to Serbia, which will reflect in a blooming touristic offer. We have already become the place where citizens of Belgrade bring their guests and an unavoidable stop for tourists who visit Belgrade.
Are there further plans for developments by Eagle Hills in Serbia?
Eagle Hills has big plans for the construction and real estate industries in Serbia and we are proud to be the driving force for Serbia’s construction industry.