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Baťa’s heritage: It is difficult to find a use for a former factory as large as ten football pitches. The current owner has invested 1.5 billion in its development

Baťa’s heritage: It is difficult to find a use for a former factory as large as ten football pitches. The current owner has invested 1.5 billion in its development

17. srpen 2018

Before World War II, there were about 30 thousand inhabitants in Zlín and more than 22 thousand of them were employed by the Baťa footwear company. What was initially a family business turned into the biggest shoe producer in the world. After 1948, it was nationalised and renamed Svit, while in the 1990’s it was privatised. However, the company got into significant debt and the import of cheap footwear from Asia also contributed to its bankruptcy. The production of shoes on the site gradually came to an end. The factories still stand there, though, and are finding a new use over time.

However, it is a slow process. The premises of the former Baťa plants with an area of 65 hectares rank among the largest developing territories in a city centre in the Czech Republic. The transformation of the factory quarter is to a large extent being determined by the company Cream from Zlín, which owns about 60 percent of its premises.
“We have found a new function for hundreds of thousands of square metres, which represent an area of at least a few tens of football pitches,” describes Martin Jarolím, the Managing Director of Cream. Nowadays, there are offices, business premises, flats, a gym, a business innovation centre and a museum in the former production halls. “To date, our investments in the premises are about one and a half billion Czech crowns,” adds Jarolím.

Public money has helped revive the premises

Jarolím knows the premises of Baťa plants like the back of his hand. When the Svit company went bankrupt by the end of the 1990’s, creditors gained control over it. ČSOB (Czech and Slovak Business Bank) was among the most significant ones. And this bank hired Jarolím to look after their property, real estate above all. “It was a commercial-economic-legal task which was initially supposed to take over two months,” recalls Jarolím, with the engagement lasting for 18 years. Meanwhile, the assets were transferred to the companies from the Cream group controlled by the businessman Petr Tankó.

“The consent to sell Building No. 21 to settle the company’s debts helped to kick-start the overall restructuring of the Baťa plants,” explains Jarolím. The Zlín Region, which needed a new seat at the beginning of the new millennium, bought the former Baťa administrative building. After the reconstruction of the tallest building in Czechoslovakia in its time, the officials of the Zlín Region and the Tax Office moved into the building. That was in 2004. “The remaining buildings remained abandoned,” says Jarolím. “Then we managed to bring the city of Zlín, which bought Building No. 23, onto the premises. Without those two strong partners from the public sector, many of the next steps would probably have failed,” he notes. Nowadays, the former production building No. 23 is the seat of the Podnikatelské inovační centrum (Business Innovation Centre) of Zlín.

The Zlín Region has also bought factory buildings No. 14 and 15, where the Baťa Institute with a gallery, museum and a library are open. The Zlín Region has received the major part of 920 million Czech crowns to reconstruct the buildings from EU structural funds.

Cream invests also in the restoration of industrial buildings. At present, Building No. 34 is fully leased, which makes 60 thousand square metres in total. Cream itself has their offices in the former central shoe storage too. After the reconstruction, offices, shops and also loft flats arose in Building No. 32. Cream is preparing more conversions of buildings on the premises and also has plans at the location of Rybníky, where logistics and production are especially scheduled.

Shopping and fun in Fabrika

Nowadays, Cream is facing the last project in the eastern part of the Baťa plants premises which is going to be the first new house for the company in this territory at the same time, apart from the construction of a multi-storey car park. On the site of buildings No. 24, 25 and 26, the company is going to build a multifunctional centre. The investor has demolished the original factories due to their poor technical condition and today the premises serve as a car park.

“The static assessments confirmed that the buildings cannot be saved due to concrete degradation. If the statics were alright, we would probably be able to save them. We have showed that with other buildings which we revitalised, after all,” reminds Jarolím.

The company was seeking the planning decision for the project of the new house for nine years and it did not get it until this year. “At the beginning, it was not easy at all to enforce anything. All institutions needed some time to get used to the idea that the premises will fulfil a different function than in the past, that means there will be no production anymore,” says Jarolím. Moreover, all the premises are basically a protected heritage area.

In the multifunctional centre called Fabrika, in particular shops, offices and flats are scheduled. At present, they rouse the most interest. According to Jarolím, approximately 100 of them could come into existence in the complex. The investor is going to build a new piazzetta with water surfaces as well.

Cream has been inspired by successful revitalisations of brownfields in London, Berlin and also Prague. The investor has outsourced the development of the project to the CMC Architects studio in Prague, partly because they are experienced in conversions of industrial premises, in particular in Holešovice, Prague. The architectural historian Zdeněk Lukeš considers the design to be high-quality. In his opinion, it maintains the urban structure and the designed parterre (ground part of the architecture, editor’s note) will revive the site.

Cream is planning to receive the building permit by the end of 2019 to be able to start the construction in 2021 at the latest. Jarolím estimates the Fabrika project costs between 1.5 to two billion Czech crowns. The investor has also been through preliminary negotiations for funding with banks. Some businessmen are believed to be willing to invest money in the project too.

An area of more than 50 thousand square metres is going to be created in Fabrika, of which shops are going to cover 30 thousand square metres. So Fabrika will become the largest shopping centre in Zlín. At present, Zlaté jablko (Golden Apple), the shopping centre in the historical part of the city which offers traders 13 thousand square metres, is number one.

Experts believe in the lease of the retail premises of the Fabrika project. “Currently, there is no shopping centre in Zlín which would comply with the parameters of a modern project of 21st century,” details Jan Kotrbáček, a partner in the consultancy company of Cushman & Wakefield. According to him, Fabrika has the potential to become a “tourist attraction”. “I do not suppose Fabrika will affect the occupancy of the existing centres remarkably but it will more likely affect their structure,” he says.

In his opinion, significant trendy brands are interested in leasing the premises in Fabrika. Some of them will appear in Zlín for the first time. The investor is also promising areas similar to markets in Barcelona or Lisbon. The advantage of the future shopping centre will be, according to Kotrbáček, the location, which has original genius loci and also architecture.

“Zlín was founded as an industrial city and its industrial buildings are viewed as beautiful today,” says Petr Hlaváček, an architect born in Zlín. However, he thinks that the public spaces between the former factory buildings are less representative than the buildings around. “If somebody looked at it as a whole and created a uniform concept of the public spaces in the area, it would be better,” explains Hlaváček.

Blue collars being replaced by white collars

Baťa shoes have not been made in Zlín for years, but due to the presence of various institutions and companies, the premises of the former Baťa plants have become a new business centre. There is also the laboratory centre of Tomáš Baťa University. The family of the most famous Zlín native have gladly accepted the recovery of the former factories.

“It is amazing that the city of Zlín finds its new identity with a university in its heart. The Baťa industrial area is a unique territory and to see a lot of new companies, cultural activities be born there is great,” Thomas Archer Baťa, Global Marketing Director and the great-grandson of the footwear colossus founder, wrote to HN (Hospodářské noviny - Economic News). At present, the Zlín premises contain the central storage of Baťa for the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary and the e-shops for Central Europe are managed from there.

Tomáš Baťa, the major founder of the footwear empire, determined the architecture of Zlín. In 1911 he called on the head of Czech modern architecture, Jan Kotěra, to visit Zlín to develop for him the design of his villa in Čepkov, Zlín. Four years later, Kotěra was granted another task – to develop a regulatory map of the construction of the first workers’ colony for Baťa in Letná, Zlín, south off the factory. The thing was that there were more and more employees in the company who spent a lot of time commuting to the factory and who started their shifts already tired.

In 1926, the construction of a modern centre begun − náměstí Práce (Labour Square) which contained residence halls, department stores, Velké kino (the Great Cinema) and the Společenský dům hotel.

“The distinctness of the Zlín architecture and urban policy lies essentially in the fact that it expresses new industrial methods of mass construction of factory, public as well as residential buildings in a way and scope unprecedented in this country and perhaps all over the world,” as the deceased Zlín architect Eduard Staša stated. “As if the city was built in one sitting and in a uniform style.”

The architect Vladimír Karfík, who gained experience in the Paris studio of the famous architect Le Corbusiere, left a significant trace in Zlín too. Later, when visiting Zlín, he praised the architectural style of the city after all. Karfík is the author of the Baťa administrative building from 1939. The so-called Zlín skyscraper is considered one of the top works of modern Czechoslovak constructivist architecture between the two wars.


Cream Real Estate

The company has been trading in real estate since the 1990’s. It focuses on the purchase of properties, their reconstruction, lease, maintenance and also the development of building projects. The company is principally established in Building No. 34 of the former Baťa plants in Zlín. The company owns approximately 60 percent of the premises of about 65 hectares. At present, it is preparing the construction of a multifunctional centre on the site of three former buildings.

Cream Real Estate is a part of the Cream group. The closed-end fund of Cream SICAV, maintaining more than a hundred properties and other assets for more than 15 billion Czech crowns, belongs to the structure as well. The majority shareholder of the Cream group is Zlín citizen Petr Tankó.

Source: Hospodářské noviny. 2018, (144)