Orco to sell Złota 44

From Poland Today weekly newsletter “Business Review +”.

The ailing European developer Orco Property Group has finally admitted what most market observers have known already for quite a while – what a spectacular fiasco the Złota 44 residential high-rise has been for the company. In the full year financial report, published last week, Orco said it would sell the project, leaving its completion to the new owner. “The luxury residential project Zlota 44 was exposed as a major financial failure for the Group in the fall of 2013. There are many causes of this situation, including lack of bank financing due to covenants default, termination of the general contractor, unsuccessful sales re-launch on the local Warsaw residential market. Therefore, late in 2013 the Board of Directors decided to terminate this strategy, suspend the works and later to sell the entire project as is and not to complete the development. On 26 March 2014, a short term option was granted to OTT Properties (an entity related to the former management) to acquire the project; no new losses would be generated for the Group in case of exercise of that short term option,” Orco said.

Designed by the Polish-born celebrity architect Daniels Liebeskind, Złota 44 were meant to become Warsaw’s new landmark, but so far it has been nothing but a disappointment, both for the developer, as well as most Varsovians, as the final look of the sail shaped edifice only remotely resembles the sleek glass structure they remember from the drawings Orco distributed prior to obtaining the residence permit back in 2007.

Złota 44 aimed to be the most luxurious apartment building in Poland, offering a wide range of additional services and facilities available exclusively to its residents, including a 25m indoor swimming pool, sauna, and spa. Located between the Palace of Culture and the Central Railway Station, the 192m high tower were to become Europe’s second-tallest all-residential skyscraper, with 54 storeys and 251 apartments. However, its completion has been delayed several times and sales of apartments have been rather disappointing.

Meanwhile, Orco ended up on the verge of bankruptcy with Czech billionaire Radovan Vitek rescuing the collapsing business with an equity boost. Last year, its revenue decreased to EUR 146m from EUR 245m in 2012. The loss in fair value adjustments on investment properties and the impairments of development assets recognized in the income statement amounted to EUR 193m over 2013 with the Złota 44 project alone being responsible for EUR 121m worth of impairments. Orco’s net loss amounted to EUR 227m last year, compared to EUR 42m in 2012. Its gross asset value stood at EUR 1.035bn last year, down by EUR 313m from the prior year, largely due to a like-for-like drop in assets’ value.

Let’s hope the sale is more than just a financial engineering exercise and results in a new owner with the right ideas and enough money to get the place finished. This farce has gone on long enough.

A fresh approach to recycling

We have a communal trash collection area up by the entrance gate. It’s a sort of extension to the blind security guy’s cabin but whilst the insecurity guys live inside Strangely Park the rubbish lives outside because it’s smelly and because the garbage collectors need to get at it without having to negotiate for an hour with Laurel & Hardy. Inside the collection area we have three large rubbish bins. This kind of thing:

Recycle_bin

There are two green ones and a red one. The green are for general rubbish and the red one is for recycling and has a lot writing to that effect on the outside. Most of the time people stick to the rules and the red one is full of cardboard while the green are full of everything else.

In my imagination the contents of the green bins are sent to garbage hell, some giant anonymous land fill site, while the red one goes to garbage heaven where the contents are lovingly turned into biodegradable spanners.

Yesterday I was trying to leave at exactly the same time as the rubbish collection truck was reversing down the street. The street is so small that there’s no way they can turn the truck around, nor for me to get around it unless they go out of their way to be helpful, which these guys did not so I was stuck for a while. It was one of those trucks that lifts up the plastic bin, tips it into the back and then compresses it.

They lifted the first green bin, then the second, then the red one and off they drove. Unless this is a *magic truck* our recycling system has room for improvement.

Family

Of course the main reason for popping back to the UK from time to time is to see the family and I shouldn’t deny them a blog post, even if it is a short one.

Zosia loves her grandma (and grandpa too!) and she always seems very excited about visiting England – as you can see.

Zosia and grandma

Zosia and grandma

We got bits of time with the family during the week and were particularly lucky that everyone was available, especially Robert who now lives and works in Brighton. The main event though was a group dinner at Mr Man’s Chinese restaurant in Wollaton Park near Nottingham.

Table for ten, clockwise from the smiling white haired man – dad, nephew, niece, sister, sister’s partner, mum, aunt (mum’s sister), empty chair (me), wife, daughter.

Average age of this table is 48.6

Average age of this table is 48.6

That is our entire family around that table, without starting to extend into cousins and stuff. Would normally be bigger but two brothers (dad and uncle) married two sisters (mum and aunt) so that immediately limited the numbers and then aunt and uncle had no children so that limited it even more. Bit like a game of chess and we are approaching check mate.

From the table debris it looks like we had just finished the crispy duck pancakes. The food was okay but I think we’ve decided to try Italian next time, whenever next time is.

WARS

No, nothing to do with killing people, except perhaps in the event of an outbreak of food poisoning but that’s unlikely because….

"I deduce my dear Watson that the food at WARS is of the highest quality"

“I deduce my dear Watson that the food at WARS is of the highest quality”

The nearest translation I can come up with of what WARS means is “WAgons with Restaurants and Sleeping”., in Polish Wagonów Sypialnych i Restauracyjnych.

Shares in WARS are owned 50,02% by the national railway company, PKP, and the rest by the state treasury. The state treasury also owns 80% of the shares in PKP so I think it is fair to just call this a state owned company and their job is to run the sleeping cars and restaurants on the Polish railway system.

I’m sure there are horror stories but my experience has always been good. I’m lucky that I don’t need a beer though, unlike my friend Michael, who praised WARS food but damned them for not selling beer in 2009 and then praised them for selling beer in 2012 and in between he loved the pork chops and (you guessed it) beer en route to Krakow in 2011.

Like Michael, I do enjoy sitting in the WARS carriage and could easily spend the whole journey there no matter what seat I’ve been allocated. There’s more space and more air too. Those seating carriages can get pretty stuffy and if you’ve got strangers sharing the compartment it’s more or less impossible to get consensus to open the window. You’ve got the world wandering buy in WARS but if you should get lonely the (often husband and wife) teams managing the WARS or one of the chirpy trolley girls always seem happy to have a chat – as much as your language skills allow. As long as you’re comfortable leaving your bags alone in the compartment (unless you have a minder) then I’d say WARS is the place to be.

The ordering hole.

The ordering hole.

My favourite train meal is breakfast and the scrambled eggs that WARS serve up are usually pretty darn good. Such was the reason for my consternation when reading the menu on my recent trip to Katowice. The train was heading from Warsaw to Budapest and seemed to be very much geared up for Hungarians. The primary menu language was Hungarian and, it turns out, so was the cooking style. I ordered the nearest equivalent to jajecznica I could find and Pani Hungarian Cook disappeared down her tunnel of a kitchen with a purposeful stride. What arrived on the plate resembled a sort of pale colour scrambled egg porridge. My heart sank. I’d been looking forward to this.

The good news was that whilst not quite hitting the spot it was nothing like as bad as it looked. I’d be happy to hear from any Hungarian scrambled egg experts if this ghostly porridge is the norm and how they manage to get most of the yellow colour out of the eggs? Is there a special kind of grey Hungarian chicken?

Cambridge

Old, I presume.

Old, I presume.

As I mentioned, our second day trip while in the UK was to Cambridge. This is a town none of us, me included, had ever spent time in so it promised to be an interesting visit.

The original inspiration for the trip was that Zosia’s study materials for English are from Cambridge English Language Assessment, which is part of Cambridge University. She’s very excited about the whole idea of taking exams from Cambridge University and so we thought we would show her where it all comes from. Perhaps even light a flame of wanting to study there later.

Thanks to the power of my wife’s Facebook activity we subsequently discovered that old friends from Warsaw are now living in Cambridge so we ended up with a second good reason to be there.

With friends on the first Bridge over the Cam

With friends on the first Bridge over the Cam

It was a two hour drive from my parent’s home to Cambridge and we weren’t exactly rushing in the morning so by the time we got there, found the Park & Ride and made it to the centre it was lunchtime and another couple of hours went chatting to our friends. As the sun was shining, time was short and with complaints of “Who goes to Venice and doesn’t go on a Gondola?!” ringing in my ears the next thing I did was book ourselves a punt down The Backs.

About to get cold and wet on a punt

About to get cold and wet on a punt

Punting

Punting

Listening to the puntsman

Listening to the puntsman

Naturally, as soon as we were settled in the boat the clouds formed and the wind picked up. Then on the return leg it started raining as well. The only rain we were exposed to for the whole week and it has to be while we’re on a punt. The seating arrangement was such that any rain that fell on the brolly of the person behind me was neatly directed straight down the back of my shirt so by the time we had finished I was wet, cold and hungry albeit better educated about the Cambridge colleges.

St Johns college version of the Bridge of Sighs

St Johns college version of the Bridge of Sighs

Kings College & chapel from The Backs

Kings College & chapel from The Backs

Punt over, we wandered down toward the centre and fell into the first decent looking restaurant we saw, which happened to be a pretty good burger joint called Byron.

Waiting for our Byron Burgers

Anytime is Facebook time @Byron

Warmer, dryer and replete we hit the town. Perfect timing. It was dark and most of the shops were closed! Realising we had nowhere near enough time to take everything in we settled for a short walk along the fronts of the colleges and then headed back to the car park and home.

View from Kings toward Clare and Gonville & Caius

Looking north along King’s Parade to the Senate House (left) and Great St Mary’s church (right).

Kings all lit up

Kings all lit up

An interesting “taster” visit that leaves us with plenty of reasons to go back one day.

Getty Images helps out bloggers

Finding the right image for a blog post is not easy if you don’t have your own to use. Finding ones that you can legally use and don’t have to borrow is even harder so the news that Getty Images has made 35 million of its 80 million images available to embed (for non-commercial use) is very welcome. I’ve long admired the catalog and quality of Getty’s images and often wished they were more easily available, well now they are. Sadly there are still a lot that are not available, for example all those from Bloomberg or the LIFE magazine collection but maybe they will follow later.

If anyone finds a way to search only the images that can be embedded, please let me know because I’ve not found a way to do that yet.

As far as I know this move is not driven by any community spirit on their part, more by the difficulties of enforcing restrictions on unauthorised use and an increasingly bad reputation for bullying in cases where they have decided to act. Instead of this they now have control over how the images are embedded with full attribution and the added benefit of being able to gather data from those who use them as well as to push adverts the other way.

Here are a few examples of images from Getty using the new embedding tool. You are looking for this icon to be able to embed </>.

Memory lane

While in the UK I took the family to see where I spent my last years before moving to London. I’m not sure exactly when we moved to Stanton Road but I was probably there from about age 3 to age 7, so this was the early 60′s.

I looked something like this at the time, I suppose this was about age 5-7? I have other photos of me much younger on a tricycle in the back yard of this house but not digitised yet. Not sure where this was taken but it would have been Scarborough or similar seaside town.

Me short trousers

And I went to school here – well, I guess I was too late with that one!

Birthplace of a genius! ;)

Birthplace of a genius! ;)

We lived here – but I have to say in our defence that we had better taste than to turn the front room into a garage! When we were there it looked like the one to the right that still has a bay window.

Ruined! It's ruined I tell you!

Ruined! It’s ruined I tell you!

UK-12

We also visited the Stanton Road Cemetery, which is just up the street and where I used to play with my friend Nicholas. In those days it was overgrown, forgotten and spooky but it has since found some friends. And who knew Ilkeston had a giant? Certainly not me.

UK-11

It was while wandering around the cemetery that we found the gravestone of Martha Scattergood, who died in 1893, aged 42.

Martha Scattergood

Martha Scattergood

It seems she is actually a relative of mine. A member of our extended family has done some proper research into the Scattergood and related families, the results of which he has put into a folder and given my parents a copy. We flicked through it while we were there and Martha is in it. Scattergood is not a common name (especially here in Poland!) but if you want to look for evidence of a few then this part of the UK is a great place to start. Spurred on by finding Martha I decided to take a look at the inscriptions on the war memorial in the town square. Sure enough, two Scattergood’s who died in the Great War, WWI.

RIP

RIP

UK-3

There are Scattergoods popping up all over the place. Just in the process of writing this I found this website with details of prominent members of the local community during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Naturally there is a Scattergood:

Joseph Scattergood

He was born at Stanton-by-Dale on February 25th 1834, the son of Richard Scattergood.
In 1887 he was elected to the newly formed Town Council and was made an Alderman in 1907.

A little more Googling found a connection between the Joseph above and our Martha in the graveyard:

In September 1856 Elizabeth married wheelwright Joseph Scattergood. Born in February 1834 he was the second son of Richard, cottager and landlord of the Stanhope Arms in Stanton by Dale, and his first wife Martha (nee Smedley), and came to Ilkeston just prior to his marriage, to trade in the Market Place as a wheelwright and joiner.

Also a possible clue to why Martha had died at the tender age of 42:

Buchanan’s report on the Sanitary Condition of Ilkeston caused the doctor to forward a complaint to the Secretary of State for the Home Department. He had discovered that ‘excremental pollution’ was widely diffused in the water of the town, leading to the prevalence of fever. Also cited were ‘ill-kept roads and unclean channels’, overflowing ashpits with filthy refuse, and pig-styes far too close to cottages.

Fascinating and if you walk around the town today, free of pig shit it may be but it is rapidly becoming nothing more than a collection of pubs, gambling establishments, places selling crap for peanuts and closed doors. The incredible twist to the story of Ilkeston’s decline might be that the people to breath life back into the place could be Polish. A few years ago the first Polish shop opened and now there are two. Mention Poland in Jackson’s Chippie and the owner tells you a relative of his has married a Pole (or is thinking about it) and is about to visit Krakow.

Jackson's Chippie - purveyor of fine fish, chips and mushy peas.

Jackson’s Chippie – purveyor of fine fish, chips and mushy peas.