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The Gateway to the city

Working hand-in-hand for Eisenach

For decades there was no progress, now it appears that a happy ending is in sight: Eisenach is going to get a new "Gateway to the City". Between its central railway station and Nikolaitor, a retail park complete with a multi-storey car park, hotel and conference centre is being built on a plot extending over 30,000 sqm. The plan is to have everything ready by 2022. The only reason why this is possible is because the city, the investor and the population have taken the project - despite its turbulent history - to heart. The financing for the project is being provided by Wartburg-Sparkasse, Sparkasse Lüneburg and Helaba.
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There are many good reasons to drive to Eisenach on the north-western fringe of the Thuringian Forest: The sixth-largest city in the state - with a population of just under 43,000 - is nestled in picturesque surroundings between four lush green valleys at the foot of the historic Wartburg Castle. Eisenach is an inviting place: the natural environment, the culture, the people, the atmosphere.

However, anyone who has got off the train at Eisenach's central station and walked towards the city centre has, until today, been presented with a different impression. Because the first thing you see is a wooden fence, behind which is nothing more than a large hole, an urban planning wound. For the people of Eisenach, the abandoned brownfield site between the central railway station and the pedestrian precinct has been a notorious eyesore and the city's "dodgy area" for decades. Since German reunification, Eisenach's citizens have been waiting for something meaningful to happen to the disused site in this exposed location. Although some investors have made various efforts over the years, it has all been in vain, which is mainly down to site’s previous history.

25 million

Lending volume

Sparkassen-Logo in front of MAIN TOWER

Financing from within the S-Group

Helaba is a strong partner for 40 % of Germany's savings banks. This cooperation also offers numerous advantages for corporate customers and their projects. You are invited to find out more about our S-Group business!

Contamination weighs heavily

The problem is that a paint factory had stood on the site until well into the 1960s, which severely contaminated the soil. This was not discovered, however, until the early 1990s when the site was first developed as a car park and later as a green space. After that came the wooden fence - a clear sign that using the site would be a costly undertaking due to the necessary decontamination that would need to be carried out and that commercial use would be the only option.
In the 2000s, a private investor finally bought the site and decontaminated part of it with financial support from the State of Thuringia. As the investor's plans for using the land started to crystallise, however, it soon became clear that the people of Eisenach had different ideas. They protested vociferously against the new plans.

Then, in 2012, Katja Wolf took over as mayor of Eisenach, recalling: "I took control of the project when it was in a state I profoundly disliked - I must honestly admit that. The plan was to build a dull shopping mall with up to 35 shops, which would have cannibalised our city centre. I had qualms about it from the outset and the feeling that something was happening in the city that was not good for our future development." Together with the city council and the support of the population, the mayor was able to force a rethink for the use of the site.

Safe disposal of

110 tonnes

of contaminated soil
Katja Wolf, Mayor of Eisenach since 2012
Katja Wolf, Mayor of Eisenach since 2012

Industrial strength, culture and nature are the aspects that define Eisenach's future sustainability. These are values that we carry within us like a treasure.”

Katja Wolf
Mayor of the City of Eisenach

Developing an idea in dialogue with one another

A new start, though, also needed a new investor who was prepared to tackle the difficult conditions in Eisenach. In May & Co. Group, based in Schleswig-Holstein, the city found a medium-sized company that specialises in project development for retail, logistics and hotel properties.

Just as urgent as the question of "who" should develop the site was the question, which arose in 2015, as to "what" should be built. It was no longer to be a classic shopping mall nor, above all, a wooden fence. Many public meetings followed as well as a "project workshop" to discuss the wishes of the people of Eisenach and the city. All those involved were aware that the only way it would work was through dialogue! "In this respect, we invested a great deal of time at the beginning in order to first understand what the city really wanted," explains Dr. Christian Kolb, who works in the Investment and Development department at May & Co. and is the project manager. "It was also a way of demonstrating that our intention was not to realise our own project in the way we conceived it. We wanted to address the concerns of the city and its population".

Dr. Christian Kolb im Gespr

„It was extremely important for us to bring the people of Eisenach on board. I am proud that we have achieved this by listening and with astute planning.”

Dr. Christian Kolb
Investment & Development
May & Co.

The dialogue between the parties involved quickly revealed that Eisenach needed parking spaces, particularly in the city centre; that the city would benefit from centrally located conference facilities; and that the people wanted to have more shopping options close to the city centre. Instead of developing an enclosed shopping mall as a self-contained space, the new shops were specifically intended to be part of the growing city. The idea was that they should be oriented towards the adjoining Bahnhofstrasse and create a large area of retail space that would complement, rather than compete with, the offerings in the pedestrian precinct. All these considerations were also based on the leitmotif of "Eisenach connects", which the city is currently pursuing from an urban planning perspective.

May & Co.

Since it was established in 1983, the real estate project developer and investor has realised over 300 projects in the segments of retail, logistics and hotel real estate as well as in the development of residential sites. It has consistently pursued the goal of developing long-lasting, vibrant and liveable properties.

The project in detail

With a total investment of 25 million euros, Eisenach's "Gateway to the City" is now the largest private development project in around 20 years.

Fakten zum Projekt
May & Co. is the third investor and will remain as property manager for the building
May & Co. is the third investor and will remain as property manager for the building

The “Gateway to the City” will lead to the creation of

80

new jobs

Financing from within the S-Group

In order to ensure the project was financially secure, the project developer May & Co. opted to work with its principal savings bank in Lüneburg. The well-balanced concept also won over the local Wartburg-Sparkasse to participate financially in the "Gateway to the City". However, it needed another strong partner. "As a medium-sized savings bank, we cannot handle a lending volume of 25 million euros on our own; nevertheless, we naturally wanted to live up to our responsibility as the local savings bank," says Andreas Reinemann, deputy head of the corporate banking department at Wartburg-Sparkasse. Together, they decided to bring Helaba on board in 2017. One reason for this was that Helaba, as the S-Group Bank, had already realised a number of projects in the past in conjunction with the savings banks. Another reason was that it is the largest European provider of commercial real estate finance and has in-depth knowledge of the market as well as a high level of financing and structuring expertise. Although Helaba is contributing the bulk of the facility, Wartburg-Sparkasse is acting as the lead manager and interface between the savings banks, Helaba and the project development company.

Andreas Reinemann, stv. Abteilungsleiter Firmenkundengeschäft der Wartburgsparkasse und Malaika Priebe, Expertin Sparkassen­kreditgeschäft der Helaba

"I had actually already given up on the project many years before 2015. I am extremely proud that we at Wartburg-Sparkasse have now played our part in making it a success."

Andreas Reine­mann
Deputy head of the corporate banking department at Wartburg-Sparkasse

"We are simply delighted to be part of this project," says Malaika Priebe, a specialist in Helaba's S-Group lending business, "even more so because it is in our home market of Thuringia, where we are able to demonstrate very clearly what we stand for in terms of collaboration with the savings banks and in our joint real estate activities." For her, Helaba's role in the project is well defined: "We are basically supporting the local savings bank, but only to the extent that we are contributing things that the savings bank itself cannot do. Otherwise, we have a back-seat role, because it is their business area and their customer".

“What distinguishes our teamwork in Eisenach is that we have always been able to rely on the statements and experience of the two savings banks involved.”

Malaika Priebe
S-Group LendingHelaba

Our partners in this project:

Sparkasse Lüneburg

Wartburg-Sparkasse

Collaboration in a "dream team"

In concrete terms this means that Helaba contributes its project experience with large-scale commercial properties, Sparkasse Lüneburg its experience with the project developer May & Co. and Wartburg-Sparkasse its regional expertise. "And so a dream team was born!" says Andreas Reinemann, who also views the division of roles and the partnership as an overwhelming success. Malaika Priebe adds: "Obviously we had to work together closely and coordinate various details again and again - and this collaboration has been running seamlessly for more than two years now".

Project developer May & Co. also played a decisive role in the smooth execution of the project: "Our working relationship with Dr. Kolb and the May Group was very positive from the word go. You could sense that you were dealing with a very dedicated, family-run company. Their decision-making processes are short, their level of expertise is high. The colleagues there are absolute professionals with 30 years of experience - and that was evident at every stage of the project," says Andreas Reinemann. In addition, they always showed a deep understanding for the needs of the lenders, which May & Co. always approached with a willingness to find solutions. Finally, he concludes by saying that the work on site was "excellent" - both in the planning stages with political representatives and during the construction phase with the companies involved.

The Nikolaitor is the only one of Eisenach's five former city gates that still remains intact
The Nikolaitor is the only one of Eisenach's five former city gates that still remains intact

At May & Co., too, the successful teamwork also meets with considerable enthusiasm: "The basis for the success of such an ambitious project with many parties involved is trust as well as an open and transparent working environment. You can take everyone by their word! Moreover, the banks have to provide a certain amount of flexibility, as cost deviations during construction are unfortunately part of the equation". Christian Kolb goes on: "Negotiations over the financing, in particular, were very fast, because our partners demonstrated both trust and flexibility."

“The basis for the success of such an ambitious project with many parties involved is trust as well as an open and transparent working environment. You can take everyone by their word! Moreover, the banks have to provide a certain amount of flexibility, as cost deviations during construction are unfortunately part of the equation.”

Dr. Christian Kolb
Investment & Development
May & Co.

METAPlus Immobilien 

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To support savings banks in their lending activities, Helaba provides the option of assuming liability or participating with a cash contribution in financing real estate via its specially tailored product "METAPlus Immobilien".

Malaika Priebe and Andreas Reinemann on the specific ways in which they worked together with their project partners in Eisenach and the added value of METAPlus Immobilien.

A strong team - a shared vision

All this shows that complex projects such as the "Gateway to the City" require perseverance and a strong team. The project's success to date, therefore, is due - in no small part - to close collaboration and a spirit of mutual trust between everyone involved. For Mayor Katja Wolf, the new "Gateway to the City" is also a "shining example of sustainability" that will enhance the attractiveness of the city in the medium term. "Certainly, this is a project in which all of us have had to invest a great deal of energy," says Katja Wolf. Ultimately, though, she believes it has become a "project close to the city's heart" thanks to the shared vision of all those involved.
In this sense, everyone shares the vision that the "Gateway to the City" should benefit Eisenach in the long term and provide a fresh impetus for its further development. Whether the population will ultimately embrace the new building remains to be seen, but one thing is already clear today: anyone getting off the train in the future with a view of Wartburg Castle will no longer be faced with a wooden fence, but instead with the new "Gateway to the City" in the bustling heart of Eisenach.

Wartburg Castle overlooking the city of Eisenach
Wartburg Castle overlooking the city of Eisenach
Katja Wolf: "This is future development ‘made in Eisenach’. It was particularly important to everyone involved that the new "Gateway to the City" is accepted by the population and is economically viable".
Katja Wolf: "This is future development ‘made in Eisenach’. It was particularly important to everyone involved that the new "Gateway to the City" is accepted by the population and is economically viable".
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