Matthias Winkelhardt looks out of his office window and watches Frankfurt grow. From his workplace in Tower 185, the 42-year-old real estate specialist has a bird's eye view of one of Germany's biggest urban development projects: the Europaviertel. The last 15 years or so have seen the emergence of a lively, urbane city district where goods trains once used to rumble. The site of the former freight depot, which extends for almost 2.5 kilometres close to the exhibition centre, will soon be home to a varied mix of apartment blocks, offices, hotels, shops, restaurants and social amenities.
Winkelhardt is the manager responsible for the Frankfurt location at CA Immo, the German-Austrian real estate company which is developing the eastern part of the Europaviertel close to the city centre. Around 30,000 people will work in the new quarter and up to 10,000 people will live there. More than two thirds of the 90-hectare site have already been developed.
"It's incredible how dynamically this huge brownfield site is being transformed into an integral part of the city," says Winkelhardt. CA Immo, as investor and project developer, has made a major contribution to this transformation. In the Europaviertel, the company has constructed two hotels, two residential complexes, one office building, a congress centre, a shopping centre with 180 shops, and Tower 185, which acts as the gateway to the new city quarter.
And there's more to come. On the eastern side of the quarter, work is under way to construct ONE, a 190 metre high office and hotel tower – with financing from Helaba. Even though this will take until 2022 to complete, CA Immo is already looking ahead to the next project on the neighbouring plot. It had originally been envisaged that a 365 metre high tower would one day go up here – but buildings of that kind are not economically feasible these days from a real estate business perspective. Instead, CA Immo is now considering distributing the cubic capacity over a mixed-use complex of buildings. Although the concept has yet to be worked out in detail, Winkelhardt is already getting excited: "The construction projects under way here are really pushing the boundaries."
The project developers are concerned with much more than breaking height records: like almost every other city, Frankfurt has a limited supply of centrally located, high-quality office space. The towers in the Europaviertel will meet the growing demand for space while at the same time closing a gap in the urban landscape. The chain of high-rise buildings envisaged in the city's master development plan had lain broken for some time. "There was the banking quarter in the city, which started to emerge in the 1970s, and the trade fair tower, then in between them the exhibition centre and the undeveloped site of the former freight depot. This gap will now be closed gradually as the new high-rise buildings go up in the Europaviertel," explains Winkelhardt.
ONE numbers among the most interesting projects in the Europaviertel. The mixed-use office and hotel tower was designed by Meurer Generalplaner, a Frankfurt-based firm of architects. It is part of a high-rise cluster close to the exhibition centre and forms an urban development ensemble with two existing office towers. "Unlike all other high-rise buildings in the city, the tower doesn't just house several types of use under one roof – it positively encourages synergy," says Markus Diekow, Head of Corporate Communications at CA Immo. With this mixed use, ONE is continuing a trend in the office real estate market. Dedicated office towers serving as prestigious corporate headquarters are on the wane, increasingly giving way to mixed-use buildings incorporating offices, hotels, apartments and shops. For property developers, the advantages of mixed use include the ability to address multiple target groups, thereby extending the pool of potential tenants.
Helaba is financing the construction of the 49-floor landmark tower as the sole underwriter and subsequent leader of a syndicate of banks. "This approach facilitates rapid financing," explains Amra Saric, syndication business expert at Helaba.
“ONE is a great meeting point for ordinary members of the public, too. It's a piece of the city that doesn't stop at the facade.”
Head of Corporate Communications
CA Immo Deutschland
The lower 14 floors of the tower have already been leased. The hotel chain NH Hotels Deutschland is planning to open a four-star design hotel there in 2021 under the nhow brand with 375 rooms. The upper two thirds are being leased as office space. A Skybar, open to the public, crowns the building at a height of 190 meters. The construction project also includes a seven-storey car park with spaces for 470 cars and 610 cycles, linked to the tower via an underground garage. A spacious lobby serves as the urbane centre point of the new building. In addition to the office reception and hotel check-in area, there is an attractive public relaxation area featuring a lounge, cocktail bar and café, all of which can be enjoyed by employees, hotel guests and visitors alike. "It's a great meeting point for ordinary members of the public, too. It's a piece of the city that doesn't stop at the facade," says company spokesman Markus Diekow.
The city and its inhabitants benefit from the mix. This is important, because designing a whole city quarter exclusively around work has been shown to have a detrimental effect on public life. Frankfurt's Niederrad office district, for example, turned into a ghost town at the end of the working day because there was hardly anything else going on. "Commuter towns of that kind are the worst thing that can happen in terms of urban development," says Matthias Winkelhardt. Another negative factor is that many older-generation office buildings are shut off from the public urban space. "Old-fashioned lobbies might be architecturally impressive, but they aren't conducive to the urbanity, communication and interaction that people today crave."
The space on offer in ONE has a further advantage: its extraordinary degree of flexibility. CA Immo is dedicated to providing facilities that can be used flexibly, incorporating a wide variety of informal meeting and communication spaces. All floors can be divided up into four independent rental sections, each comprising 400 square meters. The 1.2 metre facade and fit-out grid makes almost any office variant possible: from individual, double, group or combined offices right through to open-plan. Office tenants, hotel guests and external parties can also hire temporary space in a multilevel coworking area.
"More and more tenants are looking for maximum flexibility. Who knows how they'll be working in 10-15 years' time?!", says real estate expert Matthias Winkelhardt. The new building will be home to banks, financial service providers, management consultancies and legal practices, as well as companies from the digital sector. "Even the rather conservative financial sector is increasingly turning to innovative and open office concepts," adds Markus Diekow: "Companies have recognised that their employees are more productive in a communicative working environment. And they want to make themselves more appealing to highly educated younger people. These days, how and where people work is a decisive factor in the competition to recruit the best staff."
When it comes to digital infrastructure, too, ONE is in tune with the times: in 2018, it was the first high-rise building in Germany to receive a WiredScore platinum certification. "The future of many companies hinges on their connection to the Internet. More and more firms are storing data in the cloud. If the Internet connection isn't up to the job, they've got a real problem," warns Markus Diekow. ONE therefore guarantees a stable network, excellent landline and mobile phone reception, full-coverage, secure WLAN, and flexible lines that can be upgraded as required. This is by no means the norm: Helaba's 2018 real estate report found that, in many of the central locations favoured by Frankfurt's finance community, only around half of the vacant office facilities were fitted with modern equipment.
In principle, there is still an adequate supply of available office space in Frankfurt. However, the vacancy rate has almost halved over the last ten years and there is a shortage of modern options in central locations: "Good facilities are rare," confirms Matthias Winkelhardt. CA Immo is working on new project developments aimed at preventing potential bottlenecks in the Frankfurt office market. "We're looking to establish a good mix incorporating attractive, publicly accessible community spaces," says Markus Diekow: "Less monofunctionality, more urbanity and life."
Frankfurt and its high-rise buildings – a tale of highs and lows. The towers cast off their negative image a long time ago and today form part of an iconic skyline.
After Bonn was chosen as the seat of the West German government in 1949, Frankfurt was awarded Deutsche Bank's headquarters by way of compensation. Over the next few decades, more than 550 domestic and foreign banks and insurance companies along with 2,000 other financial service providers set up shop in Frankfurt. The metropolis on the Main river became the Federal Republic's foremost banking centre. Many financial institutions underlined their importance by building prestigious tower blocks. So it was that the banking quarter began to emerge in the city centre during the 1970s. Many old buildings had to be demolished to make way for the towers, sparking off demonstrations and occupations. For a while, the high-rise boxes fuelled Frankfurt's negative reputation, earning it nicknames such as "Bankfurt" and "Krankfurt".
Only from the end of the 1970s onwards did this high-rise image take a more positive turn with the advent of postmodern buildings like the trade fair tower (1991). The high-rise buildings enjoyed growing acceptance as the iconic skyline took shape. Most of the city's inhabitants have now made their peace with the towers, turning out in their hundreds of thousands to visit the buildings during the Skyscraper Festival.
More than 30 buildings with a height in excess of 100 metres, including Germany's ten highest skyscrapers, together form a unique skyline. And "Mainhattan" is still growing, with some 20 towers currently being planned or constructed. These include ambitious projects such as ONE, the Millennium Tower, or "Four Frankfurt", a quartet of high-rise buildings featuring a stunning folded design on a base construction which is accessible to the public. The towers will become part of a new city quarter by 2022, breathing new life into the banking district.
“The office market in Frankfurt is growing. There's strong demand for new, modern office space offering standards that old buildings just can't compete with.”
Dr. Ralf Verwiebe,
Vice President Real Estate Finance Southern and Western Germany
Dr. Ralf Verwiebe, Vice President Real Estate Finance Southern and Western Germany, and Amra Saric, syndication business specialist, have been looking after the financing of the ONE office and hotel tower for Helaba. In the interview, they explain why the time is now ripe for mixed-use high-rise buildings with office space in Frankfurt.
ONE numbers among Frankfurt's biggest high-rise projects. How did the collaboration with the investor and project developer, CA Immo, come about?
Dr. Ralf Verwiebe: CA Immo considered various banks when seeking funding for the ONE project, but finally chose us as its partner. We had a strong interest in the project, given the favourable location of the site in the up-and-coming Europaviertel. We were already well-acquainted with CA Immo; we knew the company had a strong credit standing and we were keen to continue our long-term collaboration.
How is Helaba financing the construction of the 49-floor tower?
Amra Saric: We're financing the project as the sole underwriter and then as the leader of a syndicate of banks. The financing encompasses not only the project phase but also the subsequent management phase. Being the sole underwriter means that we're the only bank guaranteeing the required lending volume to CA Immo; we don't involve other lenders until a later stage. This approach facilitates rapid financing.
Verwiebe: The project involves several hundred million euros' worth of investment. Borrowing on this scale always entails a certain risk, of course, but the customer's parameters made sense to us. The capital ratio was high, and CA Immo already owned the site. What's more, the company waited until the time was right to implement the project.
Why is now a good time?
Verwiebe: The office market in Frankfurt is growing. There's strong demand for new, modern office space offering standards that old buildings just can't compete with.
Saric: Added to this was the fact that the hotel part of the tower – which accounts for a third of the rental space – had already been leased to an internationally successful chain of hotels and so was no longer on the market.
So is the time now ripe for project developments of this kind?
Verwiebe: Absolutely. For years now, there's been just one way for the market to go – and that's up. We're seeing strong demand for office space in Frankfurt and rents are on the rise, especially for new buildings. It's true that there's an adequate supply of available office space in principle, given the vacancy rate of 9.8 percent. But it's on the decline – ten years or so ago, it stood at 15 percent. That's why we're assuming that rents will continue on an upward trajectory, especially for new office buildings. The fact that much of the vacant space is in older buildings is boosting demand for facilities that offer all the mod cons. Of course, some say that this market boom can't last forever. But we're not seeing any signs of a slowdown yet.