Oulu pushes growth

via verticality, sustainability and culture

artikkelikuva: Oulu pushes growth

Oulu, heralded as the “Capital of the Northern Scandinavia” is presently engaged in building an even brighter future. Under the City Centre 2040 vision, Oulu is looking to increase those elements that add to the appeal and dynamic nature of the northern hi-tech community.

Approved by City Council in April 2017, the Vision acknowledges that the downtown is never really complete: it has to change with the times in order to pursue growth. Oulu has a good track record in creative community renewal and the City Centre Vision 2040 is building on that tradition.

One key aspect of the Vision is the revitalization of the railway station quarter, since its excellent location in the city core provides plenty of opportunities for redevelopment. The main land owners, Senate and VR Group, will work with the City of Oulu to create a modern, exciting travel hub. Another logistical opportunity involves trams: as the population of Oulu keeps growing, a tram line is a great fit for the city.

Oulu is also exploring its vertical reach. There are plans to build a 22-floor tower hotel right by the market square. Reaching 80 meters, the building goes by the name Terwa Tower and it could be open for business, conceivably, by 2023.

High Times
Matti Matinheikki, Director, Urban & Environment Services for the City of Oulu, says that the tower introduces new kind of highrise and hybrid construction in the downtown area.

“In addition to the hotel, the building is supposed to feature, for example, offices, restaurants and a spa,” he says, adding that Terwa Tower is one important example of the Vision going forward.

Over the next five years Oulu will also participate in a large international EU project under the Horizon 2020 program’s Smart Cities and Communities (SCC) theme which promotes the low carbon objectives of the cities. The project involves 34 partners from all over Europe.

In practice this means that Oulu is a pilot city in ‘Making-City’ project where innovative energy solutions are designed, carried out and tested under a PED agenda (Positive Energy District).

“The pilot site of Oulu is situated in the Kaukovainio center in which a building complex based on innovative energy solutions is designed and built in cooperation with the project consortium,” explains Matinheikki.

“We’re starting off with one block and are looking to scale up from there,” says Matinheikki.

With this pilot, Oulu wants to test the validity of the PED concept as a pioneer for efficient and sustainable use of energy. Furthermore, the project implements the City of Oulu’s Urban Strategy 2026 and the environmental program, promotes the City’s aims for enhancing energy and material efficiency, as well as keeps closing in on a carbon neutral city.

Hannu Ridell, Head of Valuation, Newsec Advisory in Finland, sees a lot of positive trends in Oulu: population keeps growing, people are young and educated and local employment is on a good level. According to Ridell, City’s community development plans are largely driven by the downtown area:

“For example, residential construction in the city center has increased a great deal, bringing new vitality downtown,” Ridell says, adding that high-rise construction should add considerably to the appeal.

“Introducing towers into the downtown mix adds a lot to the character of the city, making it more unique.”

Talking about the office market, Ridell notes that the situation is pretty good, as well, with less and less vacant premises. “There’s opportunity around the railway station and in the re-vitalized Raksila district, for instance. Also, the new University Hospital can really boost local health tech efforts.”

Going Creative
Beyond real estate development, Oulu is also well-known for its commitment to cultural excellence. In February 2017, Oulu City Council decided that Oulu will bid for the 2026 European Capital of Culture award – in accordance with Finland’s 100th Anniversary of Independence celebration year.

The launch of the project has been initiated by Samu Forsblom, Director of Culture for the City of Oulu, along with a team of experts. Forsblom calls the undertaking one of the most prominent projects of our generation, which emphasizes, above all, the improvement of Oulu’s attractiveness and widespread urban development.

“The key to the success of the project is interaction with inhabitants of the city,” Forsblom says, pointing out that the road ahead is rather long: the application is to be submitted in 2020 and the selection of the Culture Capital won’t take place until 2022.

“We see that in any case strong culture encourages the rise of the creative industries and contributes to urban cityscape, among other things,” he says. According to Forsblom, all successful cities require a good degree of “soft infrastructure” in the forms of, say, events and museums. The City is looking into the possibility of launching an entire block dedicated to culture.

“We have a few options available to us in order to make a place where, for example, art, design and food culture could come together in a creative context.”

Destination 365
Also, tourists are arriving to find out what the fuss is all about. For example, in 2017, registered over-night stays increased by 9 % (635,000 in all).

“This makes Oulu Finland’s 5th active travel destination city,” says Key Account Director Jyrki Kemppainen from BusinessOulu, adding that during 2015–2018 the hotel occupation rates have been consistently over 60 %, in addition to revenue per available room (RevPAR) being over 60 EUR each year, too.

“Oulu’s hotel activity is genuinely round-year due to the fact that about half of the customers is leisure and half is work and congress customers,” Kemppainen explains.

Oulu’s City Strategy calls for one million overnight stays by 2026. “To accomplish this goal, we need at least 700 additional hotel rooms,” Kemppainen says.

Prepare for Take-Off
As it stands, the share of international hotel guests is slightly below 20 % and there are plans to increase especially the number of visitors coming from Central Europe and Asia.

“We’re working together with Lapland travel centers to achieve this.”

Oulu is in a great position to reach its Travel & Tourism targets, since the city enjoys super connectivity, featuring Finland’s second most active airport that just reached the one million passenger mark in November 2018.

“We’re going for the record this year,” says Kemppainen, adding that the airport just received an extensive renovation in 2017.

Oulu – Fast Facts
– over 200,000 residents (almost 300.000 in Oulu Region)
– growth in purchasing power during last 10 years among Finland’s strongest
– new university campus of 25.000 students kicks off in 2020
– average age of residents in Oulu Region among the youngest in Europe
– largest investment projects in coming years:
   • Nallikari – high-quality seaside resort – 100M€
   • Terwa Tower – seaside hotel – 100M€
   • Oulu station centre – travel and recreational centre – 300M€
   • Future hospital campus – 1 600M€

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