MIPIM Special Series — Part Three: Europe

Associate editor Eliza Theiss presents a focus on the European real estate market, the third in a three-part series of reports on worldwide real estate based on presentations at the MIPIM world property market in March.

Associate editor Eliza Theiss presents a three-part series of reports on worldwide real estate based on presentations at the MIPIM world property market in March. Previous reports focused on China and foreign investment in U.S. real estate.

By Eliza Theiss, Associate Editor

Until China’s relatively recent push to the top of economic development charts, Europe was the other prime investment market besides the United States. However, the Euro zone has been slow to overcome the economic recession and its aftermath. With countries double-dipping, sporting negative growth rates—some stagnating, others flat-out regressing—some investors are reluctant to take capital to volatile markets.

One of the Old Continent’s biggest drawbacks is obviously its fragmentation. Though the European Union as a whole provides a high level of cohesiveness in many areas, the fact of the matter remains that the area comprises dozens of independent nations, each with its own set of problems, priorities and approach to solving issues—some less effective than others. And the prolonged economic distress has accentuated political volatility, making governments far less stable and accentuating social unrest, especially in light of drastic measures taken by governments trying to cut back on spending and increase their revenues. That is not to say the situation is hopeless—far from it. However, attitudes and trends are shifting, in a more watered down and far more cautious investment arena.

A major trend evident in several European countries is the reclaiming of inner cities. Urban rejuvenation is a booming trend in the U.S. as well, especially with the recent surge of mixed-use multi-family developments and the ever-rising popularity of the 20-minute lifestyle. American Gen Y-ers’ European counterparts are also choosing to start families later in life, or forgoing having children at all, just like China’s ever-growing new middle class. So trendy, independent urbanites are creating demand on a global level.

But it’s not only young professionals looking to work, live and play in reclaimed downtown areas—it’s also new families changing the rules of downtown (re)development. Demand is generated by more than just yuppies and hipsters—real, multi-generational communities are expanding urban rejuvenation in European countries such as the Netherlands and the Nordic nations. That ushers in a whole new set of infrastructural and public service needs—such as parks, playgrounds, schools and day cares—into downtown areas that until recently held only office buildings or large derelict industrial areas (the Port of Rotterdam’s disused swaths of warehouse properties come to mind).

The necessity for public transportation and public areas becomes more acute, as does the need to get people involved and keep them involved as a community—branded as “City Lounge” by Rotterdam city officials. Redevelopment, rebirth and rejuvenation, however, require capital, and given current economic conditions, capital is scarcer than ever. One trend that has emerged in Europe following the market crash is an increase in public-private partnerships and the introduction of tax increment financing. TIFs, an old tool in U.S. real estate development, were unheard of in the United Kingdom until very recently.

The U.K., one of Europe’s better-faring nations, presented an interesting and unique approach during “The Future of City Funding” discussion panel: Cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds are pulling together as a result of the economic downturn and dissatisfaction with central government and London’s privileged status. While such collaboration would have been unthinkable just two years ago, now more and more cities are striving to follow their example. In fact, Liverpool’s local media and real estate professionals criticized city authorities for not attending the 2013 MIPIM event in Cannes, such is the belief in city development through connections made with private partners and comparing notes with fellow U.K. city officials.