The Baltic's mega-mall boom is set to continue in 2003 at full speed as developers race to get numerous projects - such as Galerija Patollo in downtown Riga - off the ground to satisfy burgeoning consumer demand.
Balder Invest, a Norwegian joint stock company founded specifically to invest in Riga's real estate market, will invest $35 million in Galerija Patollo, which will be located at 65 Dzirnavu Street. Developers hope to attract 30,000 visitors daily when the mall opens in two years.
According to Petter Johnsen, chairman of Balder Invest, Galerija Patollo has been designed as an upgraded version of a similar shopping center in Bergen, Norway, built by Johnsen in 1985.
The new shopping center, now a bare construction site just off Brivibas Street, will be twice the size of its Bergen predecessor, the Galleriet.
The Patollo will accommodate up to 200 various shops and businesses across seven floors, with the roof-top housing several open-air restaurants, weather permitting. In addition, a three-floor underground parking lot will have a capacity for 250 cars.
"We are running quite a different concept," says Petter Johnsen, who specializes in urban shopping malls. "This is a city shopping center, so we attract people who are already in the city."
However, Johnsen also wants to bring back those who have been driving outside the city to do their shopping – precisely what the Galleriet in Bergen accomplished, and what made it one of the most successful shopping centers in Scandinavia with the highest turnover per square meter.
"There aren't too many shopping centers like this, because building one in a well established city is nearly impossible. It is too expensive," said Johnsen.
"To give an example, in 1985, when I bought the buildings to build a shopping center in Bergen, the price of what we could basically use as a plot of land – and half the size of what we have here now – was more than the whole shopping center [in Riga] is going to cost," said Johnsen.
Balder Invest is a Norwegian joint stock company founded in 1998 specifically for the purpose of opening a shopping center in the Latvian capital. All the company's stockholders have expertise in the Norwegian real estate market, according to Johnsen.
"For us, Riga was number one, because Riga is the capital of the Baltics and will be in the future. We would like to establish ourselves in the biggest city."
Johnsen said while Balder Invest would be involved in other real estate deals in the future, it has no current plans to span out to Tallinn or Vilnius.
Galerija Patollo plans to carry brands previously unsold in Riga, such as Tie Rack and The Body Shop. A list of some 200 tenants will be finalized early this year.
"We are more into varieties of shops than we are into getting big shops that can be magnets for people to go there," commented Johnsen. "But we know that if you have 70 shops of clothing for women it is going to be a magnet in itself."
Because of the strategic location in the city center, a mere 10 minutes' worth of walk from Old Town Riga, Balder Invest wants to attract 30,000 visitors a day.
In comparison, Centrs, the famous department store in Old Town Riga, drew an average of 24,000 visitors most weekdays through December 2002.
Mols, a recently renovated shopping mall on Krasta Street, is attracting roughly 20,000 people per day on the weekends, according to data provided by the mall's marketing departments.
The design of the shopping mall is a result of collaboration between the Latvian architect bureaus Poga, Sarma and Norde. Galerija Patollo will fill out the belly of a whole block just off the main street of Riga. The mall's main entrance and glass-sheet façade will overlook Dzirnavu Street, while an entrance through a privately owned building at 10 Blaumana Street will give the mall the feel of a giant corridor through the mostly Art Noveau block.