The new urban renewal project the Belgrade Waterfront is already changing the face of the Serbian capital. Arun Kakar talks to its general manager to see what the future has in store
With the biggest shopping area in the Balkans, the ambitious Belgrade Waterfront development is a project headed by Abu Dhabi-based firm Eagle Hills and the Serbian government.
The project began in 2014 with the reconstruction of the Belgrade Cooperative, an academist/art-deco building on the right bank of the Sava river, and has since come to cover 1.8 million square metres, comprising of ‘public spaces’, pedestrian-prioritised streets, along with ‘world class’ residences and offices.
The $3 billion development will also feature hotels, cultural venues, educational institutions, modern healthcare amenities and a wide range of leisure attractions.
Spear’s caught up with the Waterfront’s general manager Nikola Nedeljkovic to discuss how the city is changing, and Serbia’s chances of joining the EU.
Spear’s: The Belgrade Waterfront development says that it aims to ‘redefine the modern city life’. How is city life in Belgrade changing?
Nikola Nedeljkovic: The Serbian capital is becoming a cosmopolitan city with local charm – keeping in touch with its rich inheritance, but also following the latest trends.
It has become clear how residents of the cities, now maybe more than ever, insist on keeping the touch with nature and leading healthier lifestyle. The modern city life moves toward prioritizing pedestrians instead of cars; enabling many places for exercise, sports and physical activity; opening new parks and green areas – everything that Belgrade Waterfront does.
The project also popularizes public art through an initiative called KVART Belgrade Waterfront, which aims to support the Serbian contemporary art scene. By introducing the concept of W and St. Regis branded residences to Belgrade and improving the shopping experience with Galerija Belgrade, which sets out to be the largest shopping, entertainment and dining destination in Serbia, Belgrade Waterfront will also redefine the capital’s residential offer and overall lifestyle.
What attracted Eagle Hills to Serbia?
There are many reasons for Eagle Hills to come to Serbia, starting from its geographical position, at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, moving on to macroeconomic stability and towards Belgrade itself – one of the largest cities in the region and a true tourist attraction.
In previous years, Serbia has improved its standings on numerous business and investment lists, keeping business costs relatively low and the investing climate secure and stable. At the same time, the real estate market is continuing on its rising path; many new residential and commercial facilities are being built – and sold – confirming the overall demand. Belgrade Waterfront already has a huge impact on improving the touristic offer of the Serbian capital – the cultural manifestations it organizes or supports are numerous. Additionally, some of the buildings within the project will truly be standalone attractions – Kula Belgrade, the future landmark of the city, first comes to mind.
What are some of the macro-economic trends that are shaping the Serbian economy?
As stated in the National Bank of Serbia’s latest report, Serbia is now a low inflation and stable growing economy, with fiscal surplus, declining public debt, significantly reduced external imbalances and labour market recovery. Last year, our country recorded GDP growth of 4.3 per cent. In our industry, these positive trends are quite important, as they serve as a trustworthy signal to investors, buyers and tourists alike, adding to our efforts to provide them with the real estate of highest quality.
Macroeconomic stabilization and improvements to the business environment contributed to sustained foreign direct investment growth, which was record-breaking last year, while in Q1 in 2019 investment inflow is €1.4 billion (according to the National Bank), which confirms our predictions and once again highlights the trust investors have in this area, its growth and development. Accordingly, we can already see the short-term benefits of positive macroeconomic trends, and in the future I expect even better results, as the business sector in Serbia receives even more support by simplification of administrative processes and other important issues.
How is the Serbian economy changing? How would you characterise its economic relationship to the EU?
The country is obviously trying to transform the economy based on intensive work into a knowledge and innovation driven economy. Modern technologies already bring Serbia more profit than industries which are traditionally seen as its chance for development.
As EU accession negotiations include many chapters referring to economic reforms and macroeconomic stability, I believe the process has positively influenced the overall country’s key indicators in these fields, some of which were mentioned previously. The economic relationship can also be characterised as positive because EU countries remain some of the country’s most important foreign trade partners.
Even if we were to put the EU accession aside for a moment, Serbia is affected by the economic trends and changes across the European Union, reflecting in trade policies, currency stability and many other factors. For example, the National Bank reports how, alongside signs of recovery across Europe, Serbian GDP advanced 0.9 per cent in Q1 this year. This is explained by investment beating expectations, but can also be seen as a sign of overall regional economic improvements.
Is there a chance that Serbia joins the EU? If so, when might this happen?
I do believe Serbia will join the European Union. While timing of accession is important, so is the process of getting there. EU accession is a multi-layered process, not always linear, in which some parts might take less while others may take more than initially planned.
Coming from where I stand, the continuation of economic reforms and the EU legislation alignment will remain important for Serbian growth and further development, influencing positively the business trends and general lifestyle in the country.
Arun Kakar writes for Spear’s