ACROSS: Retail properties must evolve and be renewed over the course of their life cycles to remain relevant and attractive. What standards does SES adhere to with respect to refurbishment projects?
CHRISTOPH ANDEXLINGER: We are constantly investing in our sites, and there is only one center in our portfolio that is currently in need of a complete refurbishment. Of course, the further development of locations is one of the fundamental tools of our industry. The qualitative development of centers also plays a vital role for us. In essence, however, we follow the same standards as for new project developments.
When designing our properties, our guiding principle is to create vibrant living spaces that are relevant to visitors, whether they are new developments or modernizations. SES’s goal is always to ensure that our centers are optimally anchored in the mindsets of the customers in their catchment areas and that they function as popular places. We also design each mall in such a way that it fits into the respective region as adequately as possible.
ACROSS: What does that mean for center design?
ANDEXLINGER: This means individually engaging with the respective site, environment, and community. We think about everything from the customer’s point of view. A high quality of stay is just as important as a good shop mix, topclass gastronomy, and a range of services.
We want added value for our customers. It is important to us that we are part of people’s living space; in order for that to happen, we must open up. Having a solid regional connection that makes each center unique is an important success factor. That begins with the name, flows into the architecture, and is reflected in the leasing concept and store mix as well as in the center’s cooperation with schools, associations, and event partnerships. That transforms our centers into lively meeting places that are rooted in their respective regions. People should have more than just a feeling – they should find actual, factbased reasons to regard the center as part of their daily lives. The basis for that is close, long-term cooperation with the tenants that goes beyond the sales areas. Quality and customized solutions are essential components in all projects. Sustainability, energy efficiency, and the choice of materials have increasingly come to the fore. It is particularly challenging when we have not developed a given property ourselves from the outset and have to heavily intervene in the DNA of a center.
ACROSS: A major complete refurbishment in the SES pipeline is about to happen in Croatia. Could you briefly describe KING CROSS Zagreb?
ANDEXLINGER: Gladly. KING CROSS was the first shopping mall in Zagreb when it opened in 2002. SES has only owned and managed the shopping center since 2018, so we did not develop the ring Mall concept – we took it over. As a regional meeting place, KING CROSS has been well-established among the people in the catchment area for years. The shopping destination is close to the busy east-west highway and has good transport links. Attractive tenants are a critical success factor.
ACROSS: Why is it now due for a redesign?
ANDEXLINGER: As I said, the center is well-established, but since it opened in 2002, it has become visually and functionally outdated. It needs a refresh. A refurbishment will catapult KING CROSS into the future and make it the most modern shopping destination in Croatia. This location has a future. KING CROSS differs from all other malls in the greater Zagreb area because of its unique mix of branches, with large areas for the Home & Sports sector. Harvey Norman and Decathlon represent branches and stores that do not otherwise exist in the same form at the location. We want to preserve and further develop that unique feature via the refurbishment; we have been preparing to take this step with our partners for years. Decathlon, for example, expanded to a total shop area of 5,000 sq m in 2020. That same year, parts of the mall were redesigned going along with a store space expansion by Harvey Norman. In 2024, we will start modernizing the entire center and invest around 40 million euros. The money will go towards making the mall more attractive, a new center point, outdoor food and beverage areas and entertainment, children’s play facilities, and the adaptation of existing store areas. The center will also be extended by approximately 5,000 sq m.
ACROSS: What concrete changes are you aiming for? How do you “turn” a mall built in 2002 into a state-of-the-art shopping center ?
ANDEXLINGER: We are breaking up the ring mall concept and creating more space for a pleasant atmosphere by incorporating the forecourt into the design. In the process, part of the mall will be moved entirely outside. That will result in a significant upgrade for gastronomy, it will create an attractive, urban atmosphere, and it will reflect the Mediterranean way of life.
As far as the store mix is concerned, we are deepening the proven, unique, and successful orientation in the greater Zagreb area. The center will offer a combination of regional suppliers and international industry leaders. For example, the refurbishment will result in the most modern INTERSPAR in Croatia, which we are particularly proud of. A completely new INTERSPAR bakery has been operating at the location since the beginning of 2023.
Of course, the property is also being brought up to the latest technical standards. A sustainable orientation is the absolute focus. We are expanding green spaces and are implementing a new traffic solution at our site. A photovoltaic system of 6,800 sq m is being built on the roof, and there will be more e-charging stations. As part of the city’s “Greenway” project, the center will be connected to the most extensive network of bike paths in Europe in an effort to promote mobility.
ACROSS: Generally speaking: Why do it this way and not another?
ANDEXLINGER: We are convinced that we have found the best solutions. This is where the circle closes – we are making optimum use of the existing potential with this brownfield investment.
ACROSS: How is the center able to remain operational during the refurbishment? How do you communicate with visitors? How are you supporting your tenants during this time?
ANDEXLINGER: We want to finish the redesign by the autumn of 2025. That corresponds to a construction period of about one and a half years. Meanwhile, mall operations continue: There are seven construction phases in total. The center is going to remain in operation and, thus, fully functional – which presents some challenges. However, visitors do not have to leave their shopping habits during the conversion phase; conversely, it is exciting for many to see how such a transformation takes place. Open communication is planned; tenants will be informed and involved accordingly, and topics will be coordinated. In addition, our partners know: No matter what the project, we stand for uncompromisingly high quality.
ACROSS: In what ways are you cooperation with municipalities, using Zagreb as an example?
ANDEXLINGER: KING CROSS was the first shopping center in Zagreb, so there has been professional and good cooperation for many years. We demonstrate social responsibility and get involved, especially in difficult times, such as when the severe earthquake hit the city and the region in 2020, and through various donations to social associations. We cooperate with a number of local associations and provide use of the mall for their information campaigns. As a result, we have been part of people’s lives for many years and are a partner of the city – and we will be in the future as well.
Christoph Andexlinger is the CEO of SES
SES specializes in successfully developing, constructing, and operating internationally designed retail properties. SES currently manages 30 shopping locations in six Central and Southern European countries. In Austria and Slovenia, SES is the market leader in large-scale shopping centers. Since the group acquired Ipercoop in 2009, SES has been represented in the Croatian market. KING CROSS in Zagreb has been under SES management since 2018.