Question Malls.com: Moscow shopping malls are often criticized for one-dimensional concepts, a standard pool of tenants and nondescript architecture. What is going to be different at Avia Park for visitors?
Ander Binnmyr: Avia Park is unique. It is unique in scale, location and vision. It is important to understand that Avia Park is just one part of a dynamic new Moscow suburb just ten minutes from Tverskaya. The development of the whole area around the former aerodrome at Khodinskoye Pole is one of the most exciting projects in the Russian capital. It is effectively a green-field site in the heart of the city and Avia Park is part of a much wider planning and development project of the Moscow city authorities. A large part of the area will actually remain green-field with a new park covering 40 hectares, a breathing space in downtown Moscow for what will no doubt become one of the most attractive regions for work/life balance. The immediate area around the park is largely new development, a comfortable residential area for families and young professionals. The area will benefit from the opening of the new Khodinskoye Pole metro station and we also look forward to the opening of a new museum of modern art, immediately adjacent to Avia Park. This is our location, our neighborhood and it doesn’t have enough stores to serve the area. Avia Park will meet those needs. It will have the widest selection of stores across all categories, high-street brands and brands you won’t find anywhere else in the city. It also has great entertainment, an 18-screen cinema and an ice-rink. And right in the central atrium we’ll have a four-storey aquarium, with feeding time for 2500 tropical fish every few hours, a place to look and wonder. It will be great place to shop and enjoy a great day out with the family.
Question Malls.com: It’s more than 10 years since the opening of the first MEGA in Moscow and remains amongst the most visited and competitive offer in the market. What has changed in the last ten years and what will Avia Park offer today’s visitor.
AB: MEGA Tyoply Stan was the first world-class shopping mall in Russia and I was very pleased to develop the project. It was actually the first to use the word ‘shopping’ in its advertising campaigns, promoting a new popular culture and introducing so many international brands for the first time in the Russian market. As a product it was the first to offer every category of goods under one roof with major anchor tenants and entertainment. Shopping, Comfort and Leisure all in one place. Our concept was ‘Shopping for the Whole Family’ and it remains a very successful mall. Of course a lot has changed in the last ten years. There are a lot of malls in Moscow and most of them offer more or less the same high-street brands you would see anywhere in Europe. At the same time the expectations of shoppers have changed enormously. Muscovites travel abroad a lot more, they are part of the Easyjet generation and see how things are done in other European cities. I’m very pleased to have been involved in introducing shopping culture to the Russian market. Lots of other malls in Moscow have copied this model but we now see a new generation of shoppers who want and expect more. We need to give them a better shopping experience, shopping on a new level, which you are only now starting to see in Europe. That is our vision.
Question Malls.com: Avia Park is described as the largest shopping and entertainment complex in the Russian capital. Can we expect to see lots of new international brands in the market when we walk through your doors?
AB: Which ones would you like to see? There are still lots of brands that want to break into this market. The biggest and bravest are already here but more will come and we are always looking at interesting new brands that would like to join us. We have leased 80% of Avia Park but there is still some space for interesting, possibly independent brands, which might add to the character of Avia Park. Brands are important for us, we are in the shopping business, but our priority is to create a new environment where shopping will thrive and shoppers come to us.
Question Malls.com: Which global retailers have signed up to join you at Avia Park? Which brands are we likely to see at your multi-level flagships? How is the current instability in the currency market affecting the signing of contracts with tenants?
AB: As you know we already have some of the biggest global retailers as our anchor tenants; Auchan, OBI, Debenhams, Media Markt and if you only look at Debenhams you’ll see the widest selection of fashion brands you’re likely to see anywhere else in Moscow. We do also have some surprises. Kidzania and Sega will open their doors at Avia Park. These are enormously popular global brands for children. I’m sure some people will travel across Russia to get to these brands, or at least their children will. As for the question of instability in the market, this does not affect us. We have leased 80% of Avia Park. My brokers tell me the scale and location of Avia Park are still attracting a lot of tenants. I know that’s not the same across the industry at this time.
Question Malls.com: What is the target audience for the pool of tenants you have signed up at Avia Park? How many brands will we expect to see in the middle plus and premium class?
AB: Extensive research by our leasing agents clearly shows that our catchment area is an affluent middle/upper middle suburb where people like to spend. We must serve people in the immediate catchment area and we work closely with our agents to get the tenant mix right for our target audience. We are lucky to be working with some of the most experienced professionals in the commercial real estate industry.
Question Malls.com: What will the crossover be between tenants and shoppers be at your main competitors, specifically at Metropolis?
AB: This is more a question for our leasing agent. I’m sure we’ll have similar global high-street retailers but we’ll also have some surprises. Shoppers will be different. Although we are physically close to each other we serve very different local populations. I understand Metropolis is changing its tenant mix, leasing to more premium level brands to attract an upper middle-class audience. At Avia Park we are surrounded by upper middle-class and our challenge is to meet their needs and aspirations from day one. We appreciate it’s a competitive market and tenant mix is part of that but we are focused on providing each person who walks through our doors with a unique experience. That way we will succeed.
Question Malls.com: In recent years larger shopping malls have placed a lot of emphasis on entertainment to drive traffic numbers. What will Avia Park offer to set it apart from the competition?
AB: We are a shopping and entertainment complex but entertainment alone is not going to drive consistent traffic. There are other factors that drive and retain traffic including good access, easy parking, architecture and layout, polite staff etc. It is true that we want to ensure that there is always something going on for multiple audiences at Avia Park but I would prefer to inspire and engage with visitors who come through our doors and not just entertain them with shows.
Question Malls.com: How will the mall be integrated into the existing infrastructure of the area along the Leningrad Shosse? Isn’t there a danger of serious transport problems for a mall of this scale?
AB: The existing infrastructure along the Leningrad Shosse has been upgraded and the Avia Park site was approved by city planners on the understanding that there was suitable and sufficient road access. We shall continue to cooperate with authorities to monitor the traffic situation after Avia Park opens in December and visitor numbers to the area increase. In my experience good signage and the provision of good transport links makes an enormous difference. We are very pleased that the new Khodinskoye metro station will open right outside our doors after we open.
Question Malls.com: Where do you see your visitors arriving from in the Russian capital? What is your expected visitor numbers after opening?
AB: Our doors are open to all visitors, from Khodinskoye Pole and from Vladivostock. It’s fair to say visitor numbers will be high, that’s for sure. Our focus will be on providing an experience that attracts a good number of the right crowd. We want Avia Park to be a Mecca for a great day out for all the family, an experience that will want them to stay and come back for more. And of course we hope they enjoy the shopping!