Newspaper article International New York Times

For Evidence of a Rebound in Milan, Just Look Up ; Surviving the Recession, New Building Projects Transform City's Skyline

Newspaper article International New York Times

For Evidence of a Rebound in Milan, Just Look Up ; Surviving the Recession, New Building Projects Transform City's Skyline

Article excerpt

Large developments, with skyscrapers of apartments and offices, are changing the face of the city center.


From the top floor of one of the Bosco Verticale apartment towers, the sweeping view includes several new glass skyscrapers along with the hundreds of traditional red-tiled roofs on buildings nearby -- visual proof of the changes created by the massive Porta Nuova construction project.

Porta Nuova -- seven years in construction and comprising more than 30 buildings, including the two almost-finished apartment towers -- is being completed just in time for Milan, which is trying to transform itself for Expo 2015, the world's fair event scheduled to open May 1 next year.

Also nearing completion is CityLife, a mixed-use development with about 500 apartments and three skyscrapers of offices designed by the architectural heavyweights Daniel Libeskind, Zaha Hadid and Arata Isozaki.

For many, the most surprising factor is that construction continued as Italy was suffering its longest recession since World War II and banks were tightening their loan regulations, making mortgages hard to obtain.

Property prices in Milan have fallen every year since 2008, for a combined drop of about 20 percent, according to the local real estate agency Tecnocasa.

But, with the recession ending late last year, industry observers now believe the worst may have passed. In the city, prices appear to have stabilized and the number of transactions is increasing slowly.

"We expect prices to start climbing by the end of the year," said Mario Breglia, chairman of the Italian market research company Scenari Immobiliari. "International investors have begun to return to Italy in general but especially to Milan. The speculative investors arrive first, and they're generally followed by European funds that have a more long-term outlook."

Chief among the international investors is Qatar Holding, the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, which last year bought a 40 percent stake in Porta Nuova. While the value of the transaction has not been made public, the developer, Hines Italia, has said the entire project is worth more than 2 billion euros, or $2.8 billion.

The project has completely changed the area on the edge of Milan's city center. Even though the site is near the Porta Garibaldi train station, one of the city's main public transportation hubs, it initially included the untouched ruins of structures bombed during World War II, the foundations of a train station demolished in the 1960s and abandoned lots.

Today, the development has 360,000 square meters, or 3.9 million square feet, of residential, office, retail and cultural space. Among them are the two towers of Bosco Verticale, or Vertical Forest, named for the hundreds of full-size trees to be planted on the buildings' balconies; a new park encompassing several city blocks; a new subway line; and the UniCredit Tower, Italy's tallest building at 231 meters. …

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