RE Finland

Trilogy Triumph

Phase III of shopping center AINOA almost doubles the leasable space – with three new apartment buildings to follow in 2020

artikkelikuva: Trilogy Triumph

As shopping center AINOA celebrated the grand opening of its expansion on 24 October, a sense of real achievement was in the air. After all, the conclusion of the shopping center’s Phase III added some 20,000 square meters to the Espoo-based shopper’s paradise (from 30,000 to 50,000 square meters.)

Owned by Tapiola KR III Real Estate Fund, AINOA now offers a hundred stores, cafés and restaurants as well as high-quality service – all around.

“AINOA is now the seventh largest shopping center in Finland and we are extremely pleased about the reception of the brand new expansion,” says Kim Särs, CEO of LocalTapiola Alternative Investment Funds.

There were 56,000 patrons that flooded the shopping center on opening day, and the customer volumes have been intense ever since.

“We’re enjoying a customer flow that is about 50% above the regular level,” Särs says.

AINOA Charms Patrons

What’s more, a recent study (by Finnish market research company Taloustutkimus) reveals that the residents of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area (HMA) feel that AINOA is, in fact, the cleanest, safest shopping center in the entire capital region – as well as the most enjoyable.

“AINOA has really performed well since its launch in 2013, acquiring a stellar reputation along the way,” Särs says.

Vesa Immonen, Managing Director of LocalTapiola Real Estate Asset Management, says that AINOA’s strong showing is anchored by its location in the national “sweet spot” in Espoo’s Tapiola where the purchasing power of the citizens is the highest in Finland.

“Local customers are keen on excellent service, and AINOA has been able to deliver,” comments Immonen.

Green Edge

Customers also appreciate sustainability across the board and AINOA has been built with green values in mind. AINOA’s Phase II expansion (completed in 2017) received a LEED Platinum certificate, racking up more points than any other Finnish shopping center at the time. Naturally, also Phase III was constructed to LEED Platinum specifications.

“In today’s world, also shopping centers need to act responsibly and deploy sustainable construction and operating methods as well as materials,” Särs and Immonen point out.

AINOA, as well as the surrounding Tapiola, is also big on walkability. In fact, Tapiola is Finland’s largest pedestrian commercial center. “The pedestrian approach has always been a major part of the Tapiola identity,” says Immonen.

Part of the total green package is great public transportation: metro started delivering customers to Tapiola and AINOA in November 2017, ushering in a new age of convenience. Since the arrival of the metro, about 30,000 passengers have been using the Tapiola metro station every day.

“We can’t exactly say what is the impact of the metro in AINOA’s success – except to say that it must be substantial,” says Särs.

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Bus Terminal Adds Momentum

To further complement the logistics mix, Tapiola bus terminal kicked off in March 2019. Serving 20,000 people each day, the bus terminal operates a real transportation carousel: during rush hours, there are as many as 100 buses per hour making a stop at the terminal.

“The addition of the bus terminal has been a really seamless experience, delivering immediate added value to the equation,” says Immonen.

Inside the shopping center, one can immediately spot the emphasis on food and restaurants. Kim Särs points out that while the common formula for a shopping center once – perhaps 5–6 years ago – called for 5 % of the operations to be restaurants, the current strong emphasis on services has just about doubled that number. AINOA is no different here:

“About 12 % of our stores’ leasable area is now covered with cafes and restaurants and we feel very comfortable with this trend.”

Culture Club in the Making?

Nevertheless, food and drink is not the only thing to experience here. As AINOA is located in the middle of Espoo’s culture hub – with, for example, Espoo City Theatre next door – it makes sense to “go cultural” from time to time. There are plans to borrow artwork from local WeeGee museum and perhaps host also classical concerts here.

“The cultural angle is definitely something that we want to explore in the future,” says Särs. In addition, AINOA features a strong residential component. There is, in fact, a completely new type of residential area that is being built on top of the shopping center. Featuring five apartment buildings, the area is intended also for the public, offering an attractive living environment in the very heart of Tapiola.

“The area – going by the name Kirjokansi – already features two apartment buildings (totaling 127 apartments), with another batch to follow soon,” says Särs.

“In February 2020, the third apartment building will be completed, with two more buildings getting ready in the spring,” he says, adding that the majority of the +200 new apartments has already been sold.

Residential Excellence

According to Särs, high quality living just off great commercial services seems like “a very attractive” combination to the people. The views from the apartments to the neighboring park and beyond are tremendous – there are, for instance, green roofs in place that really pay tribute to the spirit of the Garden City.

“The legacy of Tapiola is clearly evident in the residential designs – the same way it impacts the over-all designs of the shopping center, too,” Särs says.

Tapiola has always been near and dear to LocalTapiola which, of course, shares its name with the neighborhood (Tapiola is the name of the ancient forest kingdom of Finnish lore). Tapiola is also the home base of LocalTapiola, as the company has over 1,500 employees here, comments Vesa Immonen.

“LocalTapiola owns more than a dozen properties in the Tapiola Center with a value of around EUR 600 million.” AINOA shopping center as part of “Tapiola Portfolio” represents the biggest real estate investment in the history of the company.

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Tapiola: Reinvented

It is no secret that Tapiola has a special place in the hearts of the Finns – and many international fans, as well. The neighborhood has been regarded as a national treasure since its birth over 60 years ago: a shining example of a modern community rooted in natural values.

According to Immonen, the development in Tapiola has sometimes been quite slow, historically speaking, due to varying interests of the local owners. In such a situation, it is helpful if a big player makes a commitment to push the community to the next level, Immonen assesses.

“LocalTapiola has been glad to take on that role. We want to keep contributing to the development of the neighborhood in the future, too.”

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