Natalia Osetrova, the Director General of the regional resort Gatchina Gardens, gave an interview with “Delovoy Peterburg”
about the creation of new-generation cities convenient for study, living, work, and leisure, about the progress of corporate sales and the emergence of the residential class at the stage of territory planning.
– What is going on in Gatchina Gardens resort city?
– We have reached the stage of construction, accordingly, financial flows have been redistributed, and the work scope has increased. But an important thing is that we are urban planners rather than builders, which means that the range of issues we address is much wider…
– What is the difference?
– Globally, there are few examples of new high-tech cities designed for high-grade family living. Such urban development projects are created “from scratch”, from the moment of planning and constructing its own utility infrastructure, IT-infrastructure and, naturally, residential, commercial and social estate, as well as recreational, sports, business, and cultural facilities. As a rule, developers choose one direction – the real estate which is divided into commercial and residential within a single facility. That makes two cases. If you are engaged in a city-planning business, all business cases are versatile and require cooperation between numerous organizations, each of which is fixed on profit. This includes financial relations, shared responsibilities and risks. A significant amount of time is spent on building relations, while all business cases need to be implemented simultaneously.
– How do they do it around the world?
– There are such examples as Masdar which is being built in the United Arab Emirates. Google is planning to build a city in Canada, and the standard is the same in each case – these are smart cities that are best created not just for living, like typical residential areas, but also for leisure, education, and for the modern business community.
– Why should everything be combined?
– The speed of civilization development is too high. In order to relax, people need to go to the seaside more than once a year – provided they are lucky enough – and devote a few hours daily to family leisure. Urban infrastructure does not allow this. At best, we can go with children to the park once a week. Internationally, the confinements of a cosmopolitan city have been making people settle in suburbs for many decades, which have always been comfortable for living and leisure, but not for work.
– What has changed now?
– Previously, people worked downtown in business centers, therefore the suburbs were not logistically linked with the cosmopolitan center. Now the situation has changed – the business community has moved from the center to new business areas of the Moscow region or Pulkovo airport, and as offices are becoming mobile, more and more people are working remotely. Many business structures are dying off, as trading is being more and more rooted on the Internet, 30-40% of retail space have already fallen vacant in Europe and the USA. Therefore, business will be increasingly integrated into the living environment, as an effective employee can work even on a stump in the forest if there is an Internet connection.
– In creating a resort city, you are focused on high-tech companies, aren’t you?
– We have formed a high-quality investment platform; they are rather partners in the space formation for us. According to our estimations, the residents of both business spaces and housing should become monopolistic companies, market leaders, large international holdings interested in making their business more high-tech and in going ahead. I would exemplify Siemens, Russian Gazprom and other oil and gas companies. I would also mention the German concern Helling GmbH among our partners, which is professionally engaged in non-destructive testing.
– Why are they interested in your project’s housing?
– A company that wants to be successful must pursue an effective HR policy. It is people – human resources – that create the basis for the company’s success even in our high-tech age. Indeed, if you give people the opportunity to work in comfort, to live, to spend their time wisely, their performance will increase. For instance, international companies’ specialists travel a lot – they need to live somewhere. It takes a year to three to set up accommodations, while senior managers working on a rotational basis have no time to do it. It is much more convenient to come with a toothbrush to an apartment rented by the company in a turnkey complex with high-quality furnishings.
– Will corporate customers rent apartments or buy in lots?
– Surely, it is more attractive for us as a developer to sell real estate. But long-term rent followed by repayment is also a good investment offer. In any case, business relies on profit and cost optimization. If we make an offer to a company to invest 100 million rubles or reserve real estate worth 100 million rubles, thus saving 0.5 -1 billion rubles in the future, or make them out of this estate, it is a profitable investment. Corporate costs of monopoly companies are huge, and the chance to reduce them is a profitable investment as well. In addition, this solves the issues of HR policies. For instance, this is how it works as exemplified by the airline “Rossiya” which we have an agreement with. AK Russia’s pilots are unique, highly paid professionals, but they are hired away from their homeland by Asian airlines. They should keep hold of highly skilled specialists and, first of all, by means of not only wages but also extra opportunities, including the arrangement of comfortable living and leisure conditions both for them and their families.
– What kind of estate do you offer to corporate clients?
– For our partners, we have created a “Klub privilegy (Privileges Club)” program, in which we offer only that real estate which meets international premium standards. In general, we are building residential properties not below business class, with such premium options added as garden patios, fireplaces, libraries, second-floor space, optimal view characteristics, as well as additional accommodation for housekeeping staff. The housing stock is about 30% at each stage of construction, for instance, it makes up 68 apartments at the first stage. They will not enter the market, these apartments are for employees of those companies who we work, or will work with, under the corporate program.
– Why are corporate clients not offered with business class housing?
– Our key purpose is to allocate the real estate fund which is the most attractive in terms of investing. After all, it is certainly profitable to buy premium real estate at the price of business class. We all want real estate to grow in value. We often see in the market that housing loses liquidity even before commissioning when business-class developers “forget” about parking lots, parking areas, build rooms with ceilings 2.7 m high. Whatever the location, there are clear requirements for the product. Naturally, the view from the window over the historical and cultural heritage sites is pleasant. But if highly priced housing does not have the required functional characteristics, it cannot be compensated for the view. Otherwise, this property will quickly lose liquidity.
– Why is there housing that does not meet the required level?
– In Russia, there is no mandatory classifier, especially for business and premium housing. Everyone builds in accordance with their own taste and outlook. Meanwhile, all the criteria have long been identified at an international level. First of all, the class of real estate is determined by the key characteristics of territorial planning. “Smart” territories, safe public spaces should be created. Afterward, we can talk about the functions of residential real estate: ceiling heights of at least 3m upon completion, terraces, at least 1.5-2 parking spaces per apartment, etc.
– You are going to sell 30% of the housing to corporate clients; and what about the rest?
– We expect that our partners will be attracted by the housing that will give them the greatest economic result. The overall level of real estate will be high, in full compliance with international requirements and standards; we want to offer an exceptional product to our partners. Now we have already signed agreements with Rossiya airlines and Alfa Strakhovanie, under which employees of these companies can buy out real estate that is not available on the open market. We hope for the growth in the number of partners interested in the development of our region. But it goes without saying that we will not be limited to corporate sales. Now we are preparing to open free sales of real estate as well, this is also an important aspect for us.