What do a Romanian tech park, a real estate developer and an American university have in common? A pioneering investment case

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Colliers International advised on the sale of Liberty Technology Park offices in Cluj-Napoca

 

THE BEAUTY OF CLUJ-NAPOCA

Did you attend this year’s Untold or Electric Castle, partied ‘til the morning on Armin’s beats and swayed in the artsy harmonies of Florence + The Machine? Or maybe you’re a sports enthusiast who went to the Sports Festival to see Simona Halep. Whatever the case may be, surely, you’ve visited Cluj-Napoca at least once, as it has something to offer to each and every one of us. With a rich culture and electric architecture, the Treasure City is now one of the most vibrant cities in Romania. 

Go around the city and you’ll see the history. Attend all its festivals and you’ll see the present. Visit the business community and you’ll see the future. 70,000 students, the IT start-ups and international companies build a talent infrastructure in Cluj-Napoca that helps innovation and incubation of new businesses. Talent fosters ambition, and ambition is contagious, as it drove first timers, pioneers to have the courage to bring something new to the business and real estate scene in Cluj-Napoca and in Romania.

The city is home to not only great festivals, but also to the first technology park in Romania, Liberty Technology Park. Advised by Colliers, the owners of Liberty sold their property to an unusual buyer. White Star, a real estate developer present in Romania since 2006, joined forces with an uncommon equity partner for the Romanian market, a top private American University, to acquire Liberty Technology Park. And so, they wrote their (hi)story. 

THE RISE OF LIBERTY

Back in 1870s Cluj-Napoca, then known as Klausenburg, Franz Triska, a Viennese entrepreneur, set up a piano factory at 315 Podului Street (current King Ferdinand St). In 1941, the factory, called Ervin Baats (ERBA), became a supplier of wooden furniture and elements for the war effort. In 1950, ERBA became state-owned and changed its name to Libertatea. Fast forward to 60 years later and Fribourg Development, the real estate division of Fribourg Capital group, becomes major shareholder of the company and starts a process of reimagining Libertatea as the ideal place for establishing the first technology park in Romania.

A thorough plan was devised to help the factory be reborn into a modern establishment in which businesses of the future can flourish. Between 2013 and 2015, the industrial asset Libertatea became 18,000 sqm of GLA divided among five Class A office buildings of Liberty Technology Park. The sustainable work environment attracted internationally listed tenants, such as IBM, Siemens, Arvato, Altran and KPMG. To complete this ecosystem of innovative development, Spherik Accelerator was launched to improve the local start up community. 

At that point in time, it appeared that Liberty had reached its peak: a revolutionary place designed to be a medium of unique conceptual and architectural value; BREEAM certified; offering both quality habitats suitable for the flexible office arrangement and productive workplaces which can accommodate both cellular offices and open plan layouts; including an event area, conference rooms, wide green surroundings, a restaurant, multifunctional sport grounds, retail space and a medical unit; connecting creative people in a flux of innovative development that makes ideas come to life and businesses thrive.

Yet the peak can always go higher and another page in the history of Franz Triska’s factory would be written sooner than expected.

THE CONFIDENCE OF WHITE STAR REAL ESTATE 

A wise man once said that if you wish to sell a business, sell it while it’s on a roll. Liberty was on a roll. And its owner was a wise man.

Cluj-Napoca’s favorable economic and demographic trends, the rising office demand, the attractive rental growth prospects and its reputation as the Silicon Valley of Romania, combined with the success of Liberty, attracted the attention of many suitors, some already present and quite strong in the Romanian real estate market, but only one would end up being the lucky buyer. 

Meet White Star Real Estate, a regional real estate developer and asset and property manager with offices across the CEE in Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, Bucharest and Moscow. The company has built over 50 projects since 1997, including landmark office buildings, warehouses, logistics parks, build-to-suit, manufacturing facilities and other industrial projects, retail, leisure, and mixed-use concepts and residential/master-planned developments, and currently handles over 2.4 million sqm of commercial properties for their clients. White Star has been present in Romania since 2006, it’s most prominent project being Lakeview, a 25,000 sqm class A office building. 

White Star Real Estate decided to push the limits of the Romanian real estate investment market and partnered with the endowment fund of a top private university in the USA, laying out a pioneering investment case.

THE GUIDANCE OF COLLIERS INTERNATIONAL

To have a successful investment scenario, us at Colliers advised on the sale of Liberty and also acted as advisor in obtaining financing for the acquisition. From where we stand, things couldn’t have concluded better for the parties involved.

Each of us have had their different share in timeline in as far as this project is concerned. For us, it was only a two-year spread, but a journey to remember. We witnessed a regenerated, prosperous tech center being acquired by investor partnered with a foreign university in a regional city first, not in the Capital.

Many real estate players expect big real estate transactions to happen on the Romanian market, but they only take into consideration the money spent. In this case, the value this investment deal holds goes beyond cash and liquidity. Given the nature of the equity partner, will go on impacting the market not only business wise, but also socially. We see this as a true disruption in the Romanian real estate strong enough to reinforce hope about the many opportunities that the future holds for both Cluj-Napoca and the whole country.


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Anca Merdescu

Senior Associate Investment & Debt Advisory | Romania

Bucharest

As a senior team member I was in charge of a portfolio of over EUR 1bn in assets and coordinated the deal team for several financing transactions including a syndicated loan for refinancing one of the largest shopping mall in Bucharest, development of a medium-size  shopping center in Ploiesti,  several office buildings developments and existing office scheme in Bucharest and Cluj.

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