Barcelona City council allocates €16m to buy around sixty empty commercial premises

It wants to create a public real estate agency to activate ground floors, especially in neighbourhoods centred around tourism

3 min
A souvenir shop with the shutters down on Marina Street in Barcelona.

BarcelonaIn main streets such as Carrer Ferran in Barcelona's Barri Gòtic, the pandemic has left a swathe of closed commercial premises, a situation repeated across the most touristic areas of the city, such as La Rambla. According to data from the main real estate websites collected by the City Council, there are now 5,323 closed premises in the city - 1.5 million square meters of wasted floor space - and the problem is especially prominent in Ciutat Vella and the Eixample - 40% of shops have closed in the center - while areas with more neighbourhood businesses have weathered the crisis better. With the dual aim of contributing to economic recovery and improving the quality of life in the city - with the ground floors as guarantors of safety and the image of vitality of the neighbourhoods -, the government of Ada Colau announced today that, in accordance with the proposal of ERC for the budget agreement, will allocate €16m to buy and rehabilitate ground floor premises that are in disuse to create a portfolio of city-owned ground floors and influence the type of activity in each area.

The idea, as explained by the Councillor for the Presidency, Jordi Martí, is to fight against current market prices in some areas that make it unfeasible to open establishments for neighbourhood commerce, such as a butcher or a stationery store. And fight, also, that certain streets specialise only in one type of use, such as tourism. According to Martí, what is being done is to promote a municipal public real estate agent to activate unused ground floors.

The plan foresees the allocation €10m to buy premises in the whole of Barcelona and six, specifically in Ciutat Vella, as the area most affected by the disappearance of tourism and where the need for a change of business model is more evident. According to the calculations of the municipal government, this investment should be enough to acquire between 60 and 70 premises, but it could end up being fewer if larger and therefore more expensive spaces are chosen. What is already certain is that one of these premises will have more than 1,500 square meters and it is expected that it can be used to create a sort of huge coworking space.

The acquisition of the premises will be done through a public purchase procedure by competition from the offers that the owners want to submit and, if the budget is not exhausted, then the City Council will open a second phase of negotiation to be able to go directly to the owners of the premises that, due to their location or characteristics, are considered interesting. During this year the spaces will be purchased and rehabilitated and from 2022 a competition will be held to award them. So far, the City Council had tested this type of strategy on a pilot basis in the Ciutat Vella district.

More than 400 premises to be recovered

The measure is now part of a broader economic recovery plan that the city council has presented on Monday under the title Amunt Persianes ("Shuttters up!") and marks the challenge of recovering more than 400 empty premises. In addition to the purchases, the council will also create portfolio of premises to rent on ground floors similar to the one that already works for housing. Montserrat Ballarín, Councillor for Trade, has detailed that it will be promoted in collaboration with operators in the sector and is estimated to help to reopen between 100 and 200 businesses on the ground floor that are now closed. It will offer incentives such as insurance contracted by the City Council itself to ensure that it will receive payment of rent for the first two years.

It also intensifies the line of specific aid for those who are installed on empty ground floor: last year €300,000 were allocated and in 2021 it will be €700,000. On offer there will be, for example, grants of between €2,000 and €4,000 to individuals, companies or entities that happen to occupy an empty ground floor, and grants of up to €50,000 for business projects that are looking for premises and contribute to the economic development of the environment. In this way it is expected to recover between 170 and 200 empty premises. The government measure also plans to promote the Observatory of premises on ground floors to provide clear and updated information on what spaces are available.

The presentation of the strategy was carried out yesterday by the two partners in the city council, En Comú and the Socialists, accompanied by ERC councilman Jordi Coronas, who has warned that the more than 5,300 empty premises in the city are a "window of opportunity for investment funds with the magnifying glass put on Barcelona" and that the plan is useful to curb these speculative investments and move towards commercial diversification in the city.