The pride and spirit of Łódź

Small talk
Krzysztof Witkowski, the CEO of Virako on winning at MIPIM and taking part in major yachting races.

How did the Virako team and your partners react to the news that Monopolis had won an award at MIPIM?

Krzysztof Witkowski, CEO, Virako: Well, to start with, this emotional journey stretched out over a long period and was divided into different stages. We were overjoyed at the beginning of January when we heard that Monopolis had been nominated for the Best Mixed-Use Project of the Year. Then came the news that the gala in Cannes in March had been moved to Paris in September. But when we heard that we had won, that was truly amazing and a source of great pride to us. And we felt even greater pride in the fact that we were the first ever 100 pct Polish owned company to win an award at MIPIM, and added to that the building was designed by a Polish architectural studio – Grupa 5 Architekci. It’s true that previously two other Polish projects had won this award, but they’d been developed by international corporations with the help of international architectural studios. This, of course, in no way detracts from those superb projects, but it demonstrates what a great success this is for a small Polish company from Łódź. It represents the crowning glory for the entire team at Virako and also the reward for our engagement and determination – that’s how we see it.

In the final Monopolis was up against three world-class projects. Which of these made the biggest impression on you?

The three other new projects that made it to the final were in Singapore, Montreal and Bangkok and it was actually this last one, the MahaNakhon tower, which impressed me the most – the project is an amazing achievement, not only from a construction point of view but also visually. The building appears as though it were surrounded by pixels swirling around it. However, I’m most pleased that what won, in the end, was a revitalisation project and one that represented the spirit of Łódź.

Do you feel that that spirit is helping to guide you through these difficult times? What has proven to be the biggest challenge over the last few weeks?

This spirit has on the whole been a huge support to us; the construction work on Monopolis is on schedule without any major disruptions. During the spring lockdown, we signed a lease agreement for almost 1,400 sqm of office space with ABB. On the other hand, because of the pandemic we have had to support our restaurant tenants, as they have been the ones that have suffered most during the lockdown. We’ve been ordering takeaway meals from them, which we’ve been giving away to the medical personnel in hospitals. In this way, we’re not only helping our tenants but also the brave people on the frontline in the battle against the coronavirus. This is the second time we’ve organised such a campaign – the first was during the spring wave of the virus.

The spring lockdown didn’t prevent you from leasing out 100 pct of the office space in Monopolis. Is the second stage, which is now under construction, generating just as much interest?

Absolutely, yes. I can even reveal that we are already in advanced negotiations with three enthusiastic companies. The pandemic has slowed some of the activity in this respect and other things it has halted altogether; but also many deals are moving forward at the same speed as they were. I’m optimistic about this – I believe the office market will soon be returning to its previous growth trajectory.
A year ago you said that Virako plans to spread its wings outside Łódź. Has the pandemic put these plans on hold?
I have to admit, yes, a little. It led us to focus our minds to concentrate on finishing Monopolis first and remaining in Łódź for the time being. However, we’ve not abandoned our expansion plans and are keeping a close eye on what course the economy takes in Poland as well as across Europe and globally. Whatever we will do should suit the situation.

What impact will the pandemic have on real estate in Łódź and across Poland?

Łódź is quite a shallow market, which is an advantage in difficult times. Relatively little space is under construction here and it’s soon leased out. Even if the vacancy rate rises to over 10 pct as a result of the crisis, the space will certainly be absorbed within a year or two because of the demand – so looking ahead the situation should quickly return to normal. Looking at the general market trends, I get the impression that working from home, which was all the rage at the beginning of the pandemic, won’t be so commonplace as it is now in the long run – and if it is something that stays with us, it will be just one element within a hybrid system of work. It’s very difficult to manage several different things remotely and sometimes it’s even impossible. Just consider recruitment – the selection process itself can be carried out remotely, but introducing the corporate culture to new employees, or even just showing it to them, is quite impossible remotely. It’s also becoming clearer that employees are longing for some personal contact – the brainstorming, the meetings with clients and even just that little bit of gossip by the coffee machine during breaks.

Did you find time for a holiday this year?

I normally spend the summer in Poland, for example in Masuria. And I did manage to find the time for a rest this year. But sometimes – usually in the winter – I go off to some warmer clime to go sailing. For several years I’ve been a member of the Sopot Yacht Club and have taken part in regattas around the world. This year our club came second in the Rolex Middle Sea Race. But one of our most impressive feats was breaking the world record time for sailing a monohull around Tortola at the BVI Regatta in 2019.

Interviewer: Tomasz Cudowski