NOTE: This interview was conducted before Serbia announced the Covid-19 State of Emergency.

There are few things as exciting as the countdown to the opening of a brand-new mall. And excitement has reached fever pitch in Belgrade, as BEO Mall wraps up the finishing touches before its scheduled grand opening on 18 June. We got the lowdown from asset manager Tijana Vujovic about this much-anticipated collaboration between Atterbury Europe and MPC Properties.

With opening day around the corner you must be extremely busy! What keeps you busiest at the moment?
There is always a great amount of enthusiasm involved in opening a new shopping destination, but that is also the key motivating factor ensuring a successful finish. There is substantial responsibility in undertaking such sizeable projects which change the retail market and city structure. Teams need to be fast and well-coordinated, there is a large number of suppliers, everyday external factors that we are exposed to, but when there is a mutual goal and a clear vision, the process output has only one way, which is success.

What is currently taking place at the site, during this last crucial period before opening?
Tenants are currently in the process of arranging and putting in order their stores, we are close to the finish line with our part of the job, but of course we are not immune against the global disruption caused by COVID-19. In that respect, we are trying our best and taking precautionary measures. We strongly believe that this year will provide us with significant experience and a lot of lessons learnt for the future.

Is the mall fully leased or if not, how much space is still left, and how full will it be by the time it opens?
We are happy to report that 99% of the mall has already been leased, which speaks for itself and confirms the attractiveness of the project, but also the capability of our team. It attests to the team’s expertise, passion, and our desire to push boundaries.

What can shoppers look forward to on opening day – can you share any grand opening secrets? Any special activities on the opening day?
The consumer has been the focus of our attention during each step of the project, from location choice, mall concept, design, leasing mix, and this is the philosophy that we extended onto our marketing activities. Our plans for opening day include a performance by the world-renowned music star CeeLo Green, which isn’t something that’s ever been done in this market before. We want our visitors to remember this opening for a long time, hence this truly unique experience. There will also be other artists’ performances, fantastic discounts, performance of young Youtubers and a great deal of other entertaining content for customers of all age groups.

Speaking of shoppers, the community seems very excited about the upcoming opening, looking at your Facebook page. What do you think people are most excited about?
Communication on our social networks has been active for quite some time, and we’re proud to have a follower base of over 35 000 on Facebook and Instagram. Our approach to communication which focuses on quality content and segmented targeting gives us these results, and fans are mostly looking forward to the new brands, new store concepts and a movie theatre with eight cutting-edge cinemas.

How would you summarise the difference BEO Mall will make in the area?
BEO personifies modern retail, with lots of greenery and open space, which is very welcoming to visitors. There will be over 130 global and regional brands in the centre, in an area with 350 000 people that have never had a shopping destination of this calibre. We’ve already seen that the prices of apartments around BEO SC have increased, so we believe that it will change the retail market of Belgrade and Serbia and influence the adoption of new habits, as people will now have a modern mall on their doorstep.

If you walk through the mall now, shortly before it is to open, what is it about the development that you personally like the most?
The architecture first of all, a concept that focuses on how people feel while they are inside – it is so incredible to me. Also, I am particularly pleased that we have involved young artists in the process to design parts of the centre, thus providing them the opportunity to make retail history together with us.

MPC Properties and Atterbury Europe have formed a great partnership. What do you think is the reason for this synergy?
Atterbury’s vast expertise in shopping destination development in different markets has been crucial. MPC Properties, meanwhile, has significant expertise and a leading position in the domestic market and represents the first choice of retailers in this region. When you combine the two successful teams, you have a win-win situation and a recipe for success.

As a Serbian yourself, how would you describe the experience of working with the South African team?
When it comes to business there are no borders regarding nationalities. There is only professionalism, devotion and great responsibility. And we recognised those values in each other. All other topics were part of joint celebrations and moments of relaxation, when we had the opportunity to share different cultural heritages, and through it learn from each other. In this respect, I became richer as a human being.

Finally, in the spirit of International Women’s Day, which was celebrated on 8 March, what can you tell us about your experience working in the previously male-dominated field of property development?
In our company we have an equal male-to-female ratio. The fact that I am a woman in a high-level position at the company, explains a lot. The world and technology are evolving and developing at a fast pace, so in my opinion, the topic of gender equality is not as much a globally dominant topic anymore, as is the question of expertise in the digital age, the velocity of obtaining new skills and knowledge and the capability of implementing new technologies.

BEO Mall in numbers:

2 basement parking floors

3 retail floors

8 cinemas in the complex

13 restaurants in the complex

130 shops will welcome visitors on opening day

1 200 parking bays

43 000sqm of total leasable area

130 000sqm of total built-up area

More than €120 million in total investment value