Forte Partners is a leading Romanian real estate developer specialized in Class A office buildings, with notable projects counting The Bridge, Millo Offices and Stefan cel Mare Building.
You've witnessed the Romanian real estate industry transform throughout the past two decades - what would be the before and after?
I entered this industry when the market looked somewhat like the Wild West, with no noteworthy players to set the standard and a great deal of projects being developed on a whim. Nowadays, the market is well rounded, especially the office sector where everything is standardized and aligned with the highest international standards. These past 20 years brought predictability and quality to the market.
Forte has several award-winning projects - how does the company's footprint look at the moment and how do your projects contribute to the much needed urban revitalization?
We hold about 15-20% of the office market in Bucharest and, at present, we are developing 90,000 sqm of spaces.
Ever since we started Forte, our main goal was to bring a breath of fresh air to the urban landscape because I firmly believe that the developers have the responsibility to shape the city in the most aesthetically pleasing way possible. Our buildings look somehow very similar even though they are not designed by the same architect, but they are imbued with the same timeless vibe we want to give off through all our projects.
Moreover, part of the strategy was to reconsider the commute time spent by our tenants and therefore our focus went on to shorten the time spent in traffic. As a result, we placed most of our office buildings near the neighborhoods where 80% of the employees reside. In this way, not only the North of the city benefits from office buildings, but also the South and the West.
The relationship with authorities is often brought up as a market challenge - how do you perceive this relationship, including given your role in the industry association?
We always had an open relationship with the authorities, trying to eliminate the barrier between them and the private sector. As a strategy, we avoided modifying the existing urban zonal plans when that was not necessary and we always presented our plans in a way that created the opportunity for the authorities to understand both the strategy and scope of our projects. Also, I decided to join the real estate industry association as a founder many years ago, with the firm belief that advocacy actions are more than needed and necessary within the urbanism arena. The association functions to bring a common voice to both Romanian and foreign based developers and investors and smoothen out the dialogue between these key stakeholders. Through AREI (Association of Real Estate Investors in Romania) we act in a variety of ways such as proposing legislative projects or making suggestions for future improvements. Bottom line, yes dealing with the authorities can be a challenge, but alongside AREI we definitely navigate it easily. What I would like to emphasize as crucial for the entire industry’s attention – and this is something we have initiated from within AREI – is the need for a leadership model based on clear and precise standardized norms and good practices in the building and development arenas.
The pandemic pushed forward digitalization and you embraced this trend fully. Was is easy to turn towards digitalization and create a level playing field for it within the real estate industry?
Fortunately, we were taking into consideration digitizing our processes well before the pandemic made it an absolute necessity. The global health crisis prompted us to take action quicker, from adding more terraces and exterior zones to our projects to bringing in new technical solutions. So, what we did was develop a dedicated app that helps organize corporate life, with the intention to make it easier for tenants to gradually return to the office. This is how Spot.US emerged.
How it works is quite intuitive with the goal of sharing resources. For example, an employee can reserve a desk for a meeting in a specific time interval and everybody else in the office will be notified of this arrangement. For a healthier environment, facility management will also have access to the app in order to be able to send cleaning teams after each meeting. Moreover, there is going to be a heat map that shows the density of people in a certain area. Through this app (that will become open source by end of 2021), we encourage tenants to rent and use the space they actually need and share with others what can be shared.
In this context, what are your plans for Forte in the coming years?
First off, offices are a vital space for innovation and human connection and I don't think they will ever fall into disgrace or become obsolete as some pessimists are hinting. Our main plan is to continue developing high-end office buildings in Bucharest in line with what the market actually needs. Developers oftentimes find themselves in a conundrum: how many and what type of buildings should they build? We won't neglect mixed-use projects since they are also an important part of our portfolio. Our profile will remain that of a developer, so we have an eye for a successful exit from the projects we build. Having a positive impact on the environment and offering solutions for reducing traffic by sharing our parking lots after closing hours are also important goals of the future.
Do you have a final message about Romania’s real estate offices sector?
The office market in Bucharest is very much like that of Warsaw, Prague or Budapest: the buildings are of the same (or dare I say even better) quality, contracts and tenants follow international standards and the country is in full swing economic growth. Now is the perfect time to start a venture here because foreign investors can benefit from a profitable entry price. In four years’ time, Romania will evolve in such a way that it will reach the price levels of the rest of Europe. The real estate market is growing at an extremely fast pace on a backdrop of innovation and flexibility, specific to the local culture.
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