From 2019 to 2020: urban development trends in Kaunas
When summing up the Kaunas real estate market and urban changes of the past and coming year, the first noticeable thing is the abundance of projects to be completed. According to Andrius Veršinskas, Chief Project Manager at Kaunas IN Business Department, it is likely that we will be able to call 2020 a year of transformation, “On the one hand, larger projects, the completion of which was anticipated for the last few years, are being finalized and on the other hand, a direct or indirect green light is being given to some larger projects that aspire to become few of the most prominent in the next five years or more.”
Živilė Šimkutė, a member of the Lithuanian Urban Innovation Network, agrees. She mentions the newly opened parks (Draugystės, Dainavos, Kalniečių, and others), the completion of Laisvės Avenue and Vienybės Square reconstructions, the ongoing renovation of Soboras. “I would say that we could refer to the last year as a project completion period, which demonstrated once again that city’s investment in public infrastructure encourages private real estate projects. That, for example, is demonstrated very well by conversions taking place on Savanorių Avenue, especially around parks, which show that the well though-out reconstruction of public spaces gives impetus to the surrounding areas and the management of infrastructure, especially the green areas, adds value to the surrounding real estate. Of course, the sprucing up of Naujamiestis is also obvious. More and more buildings are having their facades fixed. The owners are reconstructing their houses both with the help of the Heritage Management Program and their own funds. The more the city invests in trimming up the environment – sidewalks, trees, family-friendly pedestrian lanes, etc. – the more return in gets by attracting new projects and residents.”
A booming office market
NewSec analysts point out that the intensive development of modern offices in Kaunas provides businesses with unprecedented flexible options. In 2019-2020 city’s office market will be supplemented with additional impressive modern premises for rent, the size of which, in total reaches ~83 000 square meters, increasing to more than 230 thousand square meters. At least a few larger business centers and administrative buildings will be opened this year: Magnum, BLC2, Sqveras, two offices on Brastos Street, a major conversion of the Workland Group co-working space on Laisvės Avenue (formerly SEB Bank) and others.
Looking at the trends of office market formation in Kaunas, three strategic places are singled out: Naujamiestis, Savanorių Avenue and quite unexpectedly but in a very natural and complex way – Jonavos street.
Naujamiestis is an undisputed administrative center of the city and the leader in development. It is indicated by the giant office buildings, sprouting up one after another in Karalius Mindaugas Avenue, as well as by the noticeable inner development and numerous reconstructions.
The office space cluster is expanding on Savanorių Avenue, in the northeast. The attractiveness of this part of the city is determined by excellent communication and the high concentration of commercial spaces. The reconstructed Savanorių Avenue also adds to it along with newly made bicycle paths, sidewalks, and the now controlled previously chaotic parking situation.
“There has been a lot of talk about moving to the other bank of the Nemunas River, to Žemoji Freda. The design works have started there, but we will have to wait for the opening of new objects. Meanwhile, most of the new projects are being implemented in Jonavos Street, next to Kaunas Castle roundabout. Jonavos Street itself is becoming a discovery for urban planners of the city and is gaining new characteristics along with consistent and harmonious changes. For example, usually Lidl store is a very standard object that is built according to the same design across Lithuania but the one near Kaunas Castle roundabout is slightly different, modified in response to the environment with more sensitive architectural solutions,” Ž. Šimkutė says.
Large projects are expected to start
In most real estate areas, projects are not only being finalized but the new, vibrant ones are being planned. The competition for building contractors for Science Island has been announced and the same one will be announced for the building of the pedestrian-bicycle bridge from the Old Town to the Nemunas Island. And in terms of the further development of the island, Žalgiris Arena pool and SPA zone project is anticipated.
“Among these projects, the Science Island will undoubtedly play a major role – probably its influence on the city will be almost equal to that of the Žalgiris Arena,” A. Veršinskas believes.
In the segment of accommodation services, Moxy hotel, the first harbinger of new hotel development and overall revival in the sector, will open its doors this year. According to A. Veršinskas, this year should bring even more good news. Some of the long-annoying ghosts in the city center should get if not their actual end then at least the beginning of that end.
Among the districts with great potential for breakthroughs, he also mentions Aleksotas, “This is influenced by the proximity of the center, considerable spatial opportunities for development, and good infrastructure. Soon we will also feel the impact of Aleksotas Innovation Park when in the upcoming decade it will gain momentum and becomes fully operational.”
Larger housing projects are characterized by natural continuation. For example, Parko namai that is completing the second phase and looking into the third phase or the developers who are entering the new phase in Piliamiestis; at the same time, YIT Lietuva is already planning a new Keturos upės project in the nearby lot. Among the successful residential projects mentioned above is the planned construction of Klevų namai in Dainava microdistrict, showing that there is a considerable need and potential in the market for a new quality housing at an affordable price right there in the city rather than in the fields stretching outside of it that are turning into the plantation of semi-detached houses.
The project, planned by entrepreneurs, promises to be one of the most prominent projects of the coming decade in Kaunas, which would inspire major urban changes.
“We are talking about a project planned and slowly launched by Urban Inventors on the other side of the island, near the Nemunas River, between the forthcoming Čiurlionis Concert Hall and Kaunas grūdai territory.” Five apartment blocks with 145 flats and a 10 thousand square meter building for offices is planned for the first stage. The project is very important because it would start to finally realize the long and repeatedly drawn visions of urban development for this part of the city. At the same time, it has the potential to become unique even on a regional scale – we would have a new urban and at the same time architectural grade near the river with a view of the city center. I would say that with the emergence of a pedestrian bridge to the island, the old dream of Kaunas visionaries coming from the interwar period would be practically realized: the city center would move/extend to the other side of the Nemunas, thus incorporating the river. If developed successfully, the new quarter will not only be a very important impetus for the city but also, along with neighboring projects on the Nemunas Island, will become the urban face of Kaunas in the next decade,” A. Veršinskas shares his thoughts.
The aim to become a UNESCO heritage site
In terms of future prospects, the objective of Kaunas to include the city’s interwar period architecture into the UNESCO list of immovable cultural heritage should be mentioned. The group that was formed in 2016 has been preparing documents nominating not only Naujamietis but also Žaliakalnis – the quarters next to Vydūno Alley, Kaunas array, Perkūno Avenue – for the UNESCO list. According to Ž. Šimkutė it is not only a great honor and responsibility but also a great opportunity for the city to attract new investments and tourist flows. “The stereotypical opinion that the status of UNESCO is restrictive and does not allow any development is wrong. On the contrary, Kaunas qualifies for the UNESCO list not only for its distinctive interwar architecture but also for the harmonious development of the city over various periods. Therefore, first of all, we must talk about how to keep the city going and develop it further while respecting and enhancing the valuable qualities of Kaunas Naujamistis and Žaliakalnis. According to the urbanist, as the examples of other cities indicate, UNESCO’s protected heritage status attracts wider range of businesses, people are encouraged to renew their living environment, and cities to foster the public spaces and get sustainably revived.