General Director of “NEST”: The development business is primarily a responsibility to people


To be a developer or builder? Restore the old or build new? To go on in spite of everything – or to pause because of the war? When a company has ambitions to create unique real estate objects, difficult times are not an obstacle, believes Emil Solovyov, CEO of the NEST development company, which invests hundreds of millions in projects in Ukraine. What does the present and future of Ukrainian urban planning look like, what are the pros and cons of disputes with activists, what is the difference between commerce and responsibility, he told in an interview.

Summer of 2022. The country has lived through six months of war and is only recovering from the first shocks of a full-scale invasion. However, you did not lack the courage to become the head of the development business. What motivated you in this decision – and how do you evaluate your time at the head of “NEST”?

The events of recent years have proven to all of us how important values ​​are and the willingness to fight for them. It is about the state, about our culture and history, as well as about individual stories – say, families or businesses. Everyone found their own answers – yes, I know a number of businesses in the industry that decided to suspend their work or move it abroad. But this is definitely not the case of “NEST”. We were united by the understanding that we want to see Ukraine as a successful, progressive European country. And this allowed us to crystallize our own mission: to preserve and revive our heritage, as well as multiply it, creating objects whose value is timeless.

And we continue to work on it. I would especially like to note that “NEST” has kept its entire team, and we are making every effort to support our colleagues in these difficult times. Yes, they are difficult, we all lack confidence in tomorrow, but we know that unity is the key to moving forward.

“Timeless value” sounds like an ambitious goal. Are there any projects in the “NEST” portfolio that could serve as an example of such an approach?

The logic here is simple – to create “for ages”. Easier said than done, of course. However, we have something to be proud of. These are, in particular, our implemented projects, such as HILLFORT Business Mansion on Mykhailivska Street. Or, let’s say, the former First Commercial School of Kyiv, built at the end of the 19th century, on the current Bulvarno-Kudryavska Boulevard. Now it is the “Renaissance” business center, which is aesthetically integrated into the historical environment, although from an engineering point of view it is a modern building

But we do not stop there. One of the really cool ideas that we want to implement is the renovation of the Mikhelson estate on Chikalenko Street. Michelson is a turn-of-the-century Kyiv millionaire. We have a clear plan – to renovate the four remaining buildings, to preserve their historical appearance. And, at the same time, to modernize them, giving them a new life. You ask about money, and I will say that this is a large-scale project, with investments of more than 1.5 billion hryvnias. When creating the concept, we communicate with professionals from all over the world, and with Ukrainian ones as well. Together, we will find better solutions based on modern technologies. We respect the past and restore it, making it convenient, useful, aesthetic.

here I cannot avoid the issue of REITER HALL at Reitarska, 37. This “NEST” project caused lively public discussion. How do you assess the discussion that has arisen?

In a broad sense, this is a conflict of worldviews. And it is not about a typical confrontation between “good citizens” and “bad business”, as is often the case. In this situation, I see rather a conflict between the positions “preserve everything as it is” and “renovate qualitatively and for the benefit of all”. Unfortunately, not everyone understands this. On the example of REITAR HALL, we see how social activism, with all due respect, becomes a blocker for the efforts of responsible business. We want to transform an abandoned location into an active space, convenient and comfortable for everyone. The protestors, instead of a productive dialogue, only loudly express their dissatisfaction. And this is not the first case in Ukraine, when, because of noise for the sake of noise, instead of the attractive architecture of restored buildings in the city, “abandonment” only increases.

I will not be a cynic and add that the opinion of the community is of great importance. It is active people who push businesses to professional and responsible work. But protest for the sake of protest is not constructive. Outrage happens here and now, while large-scale architectural projects remain for hundreds of years. And against this background, it is unfortunate to see how the authorities change their shoes on the fly, rewriting the rules already after issuing permits, simply because of hype. Does it benefit the city? Unlikely. Does it increase investors’ confidence in government structures? You yourself understand the answer.

“Developer” and “builder” – what, in your opinion, is the difference? The word “developer” is definitely not in favor now, because they immediately think of high-rise buildings that grow like mushrooms, without regard for people.

And this, unfortunately, is the truth, because in recent years more than one company has done everything to be perceived in this way. Just business – we make money, and after us at least a flood. It is a shame that responsible business is also perceived this way. But I will tell you that the term “developer” is completely different. In this case, it is absolutely not about “sell square meters and forget about it”. On the contrary, here we are talking about the basis of this word, the English develop, that is, to develop. And for NEST, development is a full-fledged project, from the concept in the head to its implementation in the city landscape. This is the consideration of hundreds of nuances, from technical to social. This is the kind of construction that becomes an organic part of the space, improves it, and also covers the current and future needs of the community, entrepreneurs and investors. The developer is a natural development of the city, which both improves people’s lives and has a reasonable economic component.

It seems that Kyiv has been significantly influenced by developers. Here we have samples of old buildings, monsters of the Soviet era, and “unusual” houses from the time of Independence. How does “NEST” see an opportunity to return the capital to the harmony worthy of the country’s capital?

You can’t look at Kyiv as just a place for business. This is the capital, it is a combination of incredible history, complex modernity and successful “tomorrow”. Of course, the landscape here is diverse, because it has traces of all stages of its past. That is why “NEST” aims at a harmonious union of what was and what will be. Undoubtedly, any measures should take into account the needs and perspectives of the urban community. And even take a step ahead, taking into account environmental friendliness, accessibility and inclusion of all members of the community. We want to see Kyiv open and comfortable for everyone. And this is impossible if you do not do your “homework”, analyzing and carefully studying what is already there. This is precisely our approach, which, by the way, is also implemented in REITAR HALL. Any development or renovation should include a comfortable, attractive, green and cozy space accessible to the general public.

It is also necessary to restore harmony because of the wounds left by the war in the country. Many residential and commercial buildings were destroyed or damaged. In your opinion, what approach is needed for recovery?

Restoration is really the key word, because it should be about everything, both material and immaterial. And I am sure that we will return to a calm and peaceful life. After all, each of us wants future generations to live under better conditions and with greater opportunities. We can and should work on this right now… There are also urgent needs, in particular, as early as 2022, we have prepared a project for a comfortable town for seven thousand people who were left homeless by the invasion. We attract international partners, such as the German investor Baywobau Invest, with whom we develop strategic initiatives.
Undoubtedly, the current situation does not make it possible to conduct work in the usual mode. Nevertheless, it is surprisingly important to unite around a common vision of the future, around our indomitability and willingness to focus on the main thing. This is impossible without constructive cooperation between business and government. Unfortunately, it is sometimes lacking. For example, when some controversial issues arise, government institutions tend to simply withdraw from the process instead of solving the problems. Ultimately, this prevents cities from developing.

Development businesses, by the way, are also often criticized for ignoring issues important to the community, such as green areas, parking lots, waste management, etc. How does “NEST” feel about this?

A professional approach is impossible without responsibility, so any project in this field must be based on thoughtful calculations and analysis. For example, in our work we always start by carefully studying the environment and laying down a vision of everything that will be needed for people’s convenience. It is about the comfort not only of direct users or residents, but of the urban community as a whole.

A lot of criticism towards business is justified, because there are companies that chase only profit, regardless of methods and consequences. But there are also many conscious businesses that set new standards and can be a model at the world level in terms of product or service quality. These are cafes, restaurants, online banking, and online stores – you know many examples. And, of course, there are Ukrainian developers whose experience is worth world attention.

Kyiv-2040 – what will it look like?

Kyiv is the capital, and should be the driving force of urban planning throughout the country. Or even more ambitiously, the whole of Europe. For me, Kyiv of the future is a city of harmony between space and people, between past and present, between innovation and nature. Undoubtedly, active and attractive, but at the same time comfortable for different segments of the population. I believe that this vision will be realized earlier than in 2040.

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