Generational Project That Revitalized a District
The BBJ talks to Tomasz Lisiecki, CEO of TriGranit, about its hugely influential Millennium City Center development, which began a quarter-century ago. Home to now-iconic artistic buildings like the National Theater and Müpa, alongside offices and residential buildings, it has brought District IX back to life.
BBJ: Congratulations on the Millennium City Center project reaching its quarter-century. When and how did TriGranit acquire the land, and was there a master plan from the outset, or did the project evolve over time?
Tomasz Lisiecki: A generation has grown up since we began! This area used to be the city’s “dog running area,” a plague spot, albeit one from where you could still see one of the most beautiful panoramas of Budapest. Originally, the 1996 World Expo, to be jointly organized by Vienna and Budapest, was planned to be held on the site. The expo never materialized, and, after two site tenders in 1998 and 1999, TriGranit purchased the 5.5-hectare site in 2000 from its owners: the Hungarian Treasury and oil and gas company MOL.
The government has been actively involved in the site to date, with Hungary’s new National Theater (developed by the Ministry of Culture) located on one of the parcels and the Cultural Complex, developed by TriGranit, forward purchased by the State.
The old freight station had been demolished for the expo and the site was transformed into the Millennium City Center with institutions of national importance such as the National Theater, the Palace of Arts (now called Müpa), and state-of-the-art developments like the Duna-Pest Residences, the Millennium Office Buildings and the headquarters of K&H Bank. The formerly industrial District IX has been brought back into the vibrant life of the capital through TriGranit’s vision and development.
The first master plan was drawn up in 2000. Based on that, the Millennium City Center’s development profile would have consisted of a 5,000-seat conference center, four-to-six international hotels, a multifunctional exhibition hall, offices and luxury condominiums. The total gross floor area would have added up to 470,000 sqm. The master plan has been amended and adapted to renewed needs over the years; therefore, besides Müpa, we have delivered high-quality residential and office buildings and created a flourishing residential and business center in the southern part of the city.
BBJ: What have been the highlights and most significant challenges in this 25-year history? Were there periods when you worried you could complete the project? Is there one element of which you are most proud?
TL: The area of the Millennium City Center (MCC) has a size of approximately 10 hectares, including 11 individual plots on which several office buildings (Millennium Towers), luxury residential buildings (Duna-Pest Residences), and the Palace of Arts have been built in the last two-and-a-half decades. On the one hand, we are most proud of Müpa, which serves as the home of three major cultural institutions: the Festival Theater, National Concert Hall and Ludwig Museum. The creators of this unique facility, the developer TriGranit, the general contractor Arcadom Construction Ltd., and the designers Zoboki, Demeter and Partners Architects, were driven by the idea of creating one of Europe’s new cultural centers in the Hungarian capital on the Danube riverfront, which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage. It is a facility whose appearance, functions, high quality of construction, and state-of-the-art technical background allow it to host any large-scale performance and which can bring together a wide range of artistic disciplines in one place.
However, we are also exceptionally proud of our newest development, the Millennium Gardens office building, the construction of which was very challenging throughout the pandemic. In the end, we can state it was a success story and that the Millennium Gardens has become an exceptional final project in the Millennium City Center scheme.
BBJ: Given the benefit of hindsight, what would you have done differently?
TL: In the interim, bank financing and pre-leasing conditions have changed; therefore, we have also amended the development schedule accordingly.
BBJ: It is not every day you get to develop on such a scale, impacting practically a whole district. What was the initial reaction from the local public, and how has that changed over the years?
TL: The construction industry plays a vital role in satisfying human needs; therefore, construction activities cannot be avoided. In addition, many of these activities are carried out in urban areas, so it is impossible not to have these activities in city centers. However, construction projects are also acknowledged as one of the primary sources of nuisance in urban areas, affecting the local public. These nuisances were unavoidable in the case of the MCC, but eventually, the people acknowledged the benefits of the new city center and saw the handover of the first ultra-modern buildings revitalizing the district.
Initially, the first developments were received by locals with difficulty and doubt, but they began to accept them after a short period. Finally, the public even became supportive in some cases, especially when they saw that it went hand-in-hand with the rehabilitation process of District IX. The situation was very different compared to other districts and business centers of the city, as the Millennium City Center entailed the renewal of the whole community.
BBJ: Is this mixed-use Danube-side district now complete? What plans are there for the Millennium City Center?
TL: The Millennium City Center is complete at this point; however, we are open to commencing the second phase of the Millennium Gardens in the near future.
BBJ: Finally, what’s next on the drawing board for TriGranit?
TL: TriGranit has numerous plans for the future in Budapest and also in CEE. Besides the second phase of Millennium Gardens, we have several residential and office projects and mixed-use developments in mind. The market sentiment, market conditions and actual demand will determine the projects realized next.
This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of May 6, 2022.
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