Hamburg’s most expensive new development

Apartments with a view of the Alster at Sophienterrassen cost up to €18,000 per square metre. 45 percent are sold. ULRICH GASSDORF

HARVESTEHUDE: It is the biggest development project in the luxury sector in Hamburg. Even in Harvestehude there has been nothing like the new residential district Sophienterrassen in the last few years – also when it comes to the level of investment. Frankonia Eurobau and their partners will have made a total investment of around €380m in the new area by completion. “Our projects are high quality and sustainable and that comes at a price” said Uwe Schmitz chairman of Frankonia Eurobau.

191 apartments with up to 448 m2 will be built here, the first of which are already occupied. 105 of these will be luxury apartments in the listed, former commandant headquarters. This is now called Sophien Palais and will be completely gutted. The building should be completed by the middle of 2015. About 95 percent of the apartments in the townhouses have been sold, prices here start at €7,000 per square metre. In Sophien Palais 50 percent have been sold.

But what about the Alster Villas in the front row? Here the apartments of up to 448 m2 with views of the outer Alster cost up to €18,000 per m2. “The air is thin when you are up in this price region”, said Schmitz. Which means, “an apartment for over €2m is not easy to sell, but it is our job and it’s going well.” So far around 45 percent of the 35 apartments in the Alster Villas have been sold. The building engineer describes the clients as “careful, scrutinising and never quick to decide”. Schmitz knows that “when someone comes and immediately wants to buy then usually there is something wrong”

“You really can’t talk about a fenced off community here, but the residents have the right to a little privacy” Uwe Schmitz.

On the 44,000 m2 of former German army barrack’s property a completely new residential district has been created with imposing buildings. “My underlying principle is that wherever I look I want to be happy. The style of the architecture is selected on the basis that the buildings will still look good here in 100 years,” said Schmitz. The 56 year-old is from the Lower Rhine region, where in the small town of Nettetal, Schmitz founded Frankonia Eurobau 22 years ago and where the headquarters is still located today.

The name of the company was virtually unknown in Hamburg up until a few years ago. The city was a white spot on the map for the developer, whereas in cities such as Düsseldorf and Munich he had already built large-scale projects in the luxury sector. In 2006 Björn Dahler, a well-known property agent and old friend from Hamburg contacted him. “He said he had a piece of land in an absolutely premium location on the Alster lake, immediately it was as if I was electrified.” Because for Uwe Schmitz this was a dream come true. “My lawyer had his practice on Harvestehuder, and when I was sitting in his office 15 years ago I thought to myself – some day I want to build here” When the two men were standing on the overgrown army complex full of barracks type buildings, it was clear for Uwe Schmitz: “I will create a residential area here that will make a new statement in Hamburg.”

In the elegant district of Harvestehude getting on with the neighbours, who since have formed a residents’ initiative especially to deal with this issue, is a challenge. Schmitz has made concessions and cancelled the plan to turn the former commandant headquarters into a hotel. “There are always conflicts with the local residents about building projects of this size”. Schmitz admits to finding the criticisms sometimes “petty or conservative”.

The developer has shown himself to be open to the planned refugee home nearby.

He says that without resentment, he even smiles and calls himself “a stubborn mule from North Rhein”. However he has no patience with the critics who say that Sophienterrassen will be a gated community. He points to the small fence behind which a private path leads to the apartment houses. “You really can’t talk about a fenced off community here, but the residents have the right to a little privacy” Apart from that two new public access paths will also lead through the area to the Alster. “That wasn’t the case when the army were in control here,” said Schmitz.

By 2015 all of the buildings should be finished. About 200 construction workers are currently working on the site and Uwe Schmitz is in the middle of them. “I’ve got my heart’s blood in this project”, said Schmitz, and the workers feel that. Once Schmitz gave one of the men €50 in return for his hammer. Then he took the hammer and headed for the bathroom in one of the apartments. “Right in front of one of the craftsmen I smashed the tiles with the hammer to show him that the quality was not up to scratch, after that everything was fine”, said Schmitz.

Schmitz becomes pensive when he is asked about the discussion surrounding the refugee accommodation, which is planned for the district recruiting office, only a few metres away. “These people need accommodation and help, the people who are against such a centre should think about that.” It will also be an advantage when the refugees come to a functioning social environment, such as we have here in Harvestehude, continued Schmitz.

The developer has become fond of Hamburg. Frankonia Eurobau is also building offices and loft apartments for around €120m on Große Burstah in the centre of the city. Furthermore, the company is developing projects in Berlin, Düsseldorf and Munich with a total investment volume of around €1.2 bn including Sophienterrassen. Uwe Schmitz would like to continue to be involved in the Hamburg property market. In Hamburg’s docklands development, HafenCity, at one time he applied for the contract to build the new Elbphilharmonie. It’s an interesting area but Uwe Schmitz will tackle that when the Sophienterrassen project is completely finished.

13 January 2014