"We are constantly looking for good investment and development opportunities"

Dimitri Thomas, International Operations Director at Acsion Ltd, the South African company behind the Metropolis Mall in Larnaca, explains why Acsion is bullish regarding the city’s future and reveals its interest in developing the area around the Mall into a new economic and services hub.

Your highest-profile project in Cyprus to date is the Metropolis Mall in Larnaca. Can you tell us more about why South Africa-headquartered Acsion chose the city for its first project of this magnitude on the island?

Our company is primarily focused on – and experienced in – retail shopping centre developments, and we identified Larnaca as a city in need of such a shopping centre, based on the size of its population and the under-supply of retail brands there. Some of the key benefits of Larnaca are its central location, its close proximity to Nicosia, Ayia Napa, Protaras/Paralimni and the eastern part of Limassol, as well as the fact that it is home to the country’s main international Airport. Moreover, property prices are much more reasonable and a new marina and several hotels are planned there. A focus on improving the tourism and investment profile of Larnaca, via marketing and infrastructure initiatives, will help the city achieve its growth vision. We are bullish about Larnaca’s future and believe that it will experience considerable development in the next 10 years, as a number of large-scale projects that are under way will ensure that it becomes more appealing to both local residents and tourists.

Are you satisfied with how the public has responded to the Mall and do you have any plans to further develop and/or expand it?

Although we opened in September 2021, when COVID-related restrictions were still in place, the Metropolis Mall has performed very well, and is showing excellent year-on-year growth in respect of both footfall and sales. We have added a number of new shops and brands to our tenant mix, some of which are first-time brands for the Cyprus market. Our vision for the Metropolis Mall was to differentiate it from the other malls in a number of ways, including its central location in the catchment market, excellent road access and convenience, a single-level shopping area, and a focus on families and the community: for example, we have incorporated water fountains, children’s play equipment, walking and cycling paths, as well as greenery into the Mall’s design, for which we have planted some 750 trees and shrubs. The public has embraced the Metropolis Mall as a social and retail destination and we have been successful in becoming the preferred shopping destination for many surrounding villages and towns, including Paralimni, Protaras, Ayia Napa and the villages between Nicosia and Larnaca. Our current plans include the development of two premium properties next to the Mall, which will include showrooms and offices, as well as medical centres, a university and student apartments. For these developments, we are targeting large brands as well as local and international companies interested in basing themselves in Larnaca.

Do you have immediate plans for any other new developments in Cyprus or Europe?

We are constantly looking for good investment and development opportunities in Cyprus, Greece and the rest of Europe, and we welcome any companies or landowners that wish to propose their projects to us. For Larnaca, we are interested in developing the node around the Metropolis Mall into the new economic and services hub, as it is well suited due to its location and the new road infrastructure that we have completed. We are interested in collaborating with stakeholders and companies regarding our vision for the development of this new economic hub precinct.

One of your company’s major projects in South Africa is the Acsiopolis development in Sandton. Is something like this also among Acsion’s longer-term plans for Cyprus?

Due to its size and nature, the Acsiopolis mixed-use building in Sandton, South Africa is indeed one of our most significant projects to date. It incorporates a 550-room hotel and 490 apartments, as well as shops and restaurants. It also opened during the challenging times of COVID-19 but has proven to be a success, and we are definitely interested in bringing this model to Cyprus and other European counties, as we believe that the future of business and leisure travel is changing. We are currently in the final stages of commencing a similar project in Cape Town, South Africa.

Can you tell us more about the company’s connection to Cyprus and how the experience of doing business here compares to doing business in South Africa?

The founding members of Acsion Ltd have Greek and Cypriot origins, hence Greece and Cyprus have always interested us from both a personal and a business perspective. Doing business in South Africa is easier and faster, due to the more formalised development framework and infrastructure of the country. Doing business in Cyprus has – unfortunately– been slower and some of the challenges we experienced were related to the protracted process of obtaining approvals and licences for the project. However, we received great support from many stakeholders, including the Municipality, the Town Planning Department and various other public sector services. To help implement Cyprus’ growth, it is necessary to improve the approval process, to better facilitate new projects and investors, and to provide tax incentives for large-scale projects. I believe that a sustainable, long-term strategy needs to be put in place with respect to the real estate and headquartering sectors and for investment funds.

(Photo by Michalis Kyprianou)

This interview first appeared in the June edition of GOLD magazine. Click here to view it.

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