Stará Tržnica Market – when a community takes over a public property

What’s the key concept of your regeneration of the market hall? 

We are a civic association, the Old Market Hall Alliance, and we run the old market hall as a non-profit project since 2013. We addressed the issue of an empty market hall that was closed for years before we proposed a new kind of redevelopment project to the City. Previously, the City tried to run it as a mono-functional market, but there was only about 6 stalls left inside, and all the others were closed down, so it was not a real market. The tenants were there the whole week, not competing with prices, probably even having the same owner, and probably they didn’t generate really revenue, as the market only had losses.

We brought in a team of experts, eleven people from different disciplines to elaborate together a new program for the building: it included the market but only as one of the many potential functions of the building. What is different now, is that we combine the functions: we use the market as a concert hall, or a ballroom for companies, a conference hall, or a workshop space. On Saturday, the most precious day, we have the market from 8am, and therefore Friday night we have no events, because there wouldn’t be enough time to clean up. This is a really strong message, that the most precious day is given to the public as a gift. What works is the blend of activities, multi-functionality, to combine functions of those activities that do not generate solid revenue with those that can generate revenue for you: this way you can subsidise the former.

Stará Tržnica, Bratislava, 2
Inside of the Market
How did you come to an agreement with the City Hall? 

We were lucky, because the municipal assembly voted in favour of our proposal: there were hundreds of people watching the assembly online so there was a kind of public pressure on politicians as well. The whole project was introduced as a sustainable and financially separated project from the Municipality. So we don’t receive any subsidies or finance from the city, but pay a symbolic one euro rent per year for the building and have to invest in the renovation of the market hall 120.000 euros every year, that amounts to 10.000 euros a month. It is quite a lot of money, especially as we cannot contribute in-kind. On the other hand, we can calculate investments done by our tenants. This constellation brings a direct benefit for the City, as it basically gets 10.000 euros of new investment into the building every month. Another benefit for the City is that we created spade for seven new businesses inside the Market Hall, and several more entrepreneurs benefit from the building in a way or another. We cooperative closely with the Municipality as the city representatives serve as a kind of a supervisory board, they always check where we can or cannot invest: they have a kind of authority over us.

What are your revenue streams to cover the investments? 

Most of our revenue comes from private events, it adds up to 60-70%, but this revenue is distributed in a year quite unevenly: the top season is October to December, with plenty of Christmas events, and we have practically no events in July and August. The rent for a private event can run into several thousands of euros, up to 6-7000 euros for a day – for this we provide many services, set up the space, etc. The great demand is due to a specific situation in Bratislava, that you don’t really have many event spaces of this kind, maybe this is the only one in the centre that is so large and well-positioned, with an easy access for cars.

How did your economic plan work out? 

It worked out well so far. As we had more revenues than expected, we already invested 6 or 7 years upfront. It’s also because we cannot invest in the building evenly throughout the years: we have to invest more in the beginning. We still have a lot to do in the renovation, for instance, we will take a bank loan now to reconstruct the floor that is in the worst condition in the building and will be the most expensive to renovate. Then we’ll continue with all the windows, and as the building is a protected monument, it will also be very expensive. We already bought plenty of sound and light equipment, tables for the market and a podium to build the stage, these things are all tied to the construction. Once we have to invest less in the building, and we’ll have surplus money, we will probably make less and less of those private events that we don’t really want to do and make more public ones. And we will have less and less people working on the market, as we can go down from eleven people working on the building to three people to run the space, the financial person, the event manager and an administrator of the building.

What is the function of the smaller spaces of the market hall building? 

We also use the spaces of the market hall that face the outside, looking at the neighbouring square and streets. Lab is a fabrication lab, where you can do digital fabrication, use laser cutters, 3D printer. It has a public area and a downstairs a workshop with woodcutters and other tools. It works on a prepaid membership basis and contributes to an emerging community around the Lab. There is also a small cafeteria here where anyone can work the whole day with just buying a coffee. We have a restaurant, a sort of a canteen, and they compost all their organic waste. Hopefully it will emerge in a waste system for the whole market and the neighbourhood. There is also a grocery shop: the idea was to create a locally sourced store where you can find food and products as local as possible. On the other side, there is another café, a social enterprise that has homeless employees as well. Originally, we also had a kids’ centre, for families. It didn’t work very well, because if you come with kids, usually you don’t spend much, and the place was just going down economically. Inside the market hall, there are three more businesses: a cooking school that also makes food for kindergartens, sells to the neighbouring restaurants and also works with refugees; a soda producer, in which we are also a small shareholder; and a beer manufacturer. We also organise a bazaar where people can donate things and the revenue goes for the reconstruction of the building: it doesn’t generate much income but what is important is that it ties together the community.

How did you select the tenants? Did you give any priority to social enterprises? 
Cooking classes in the Market

We selected the tenants through an open call. The proportion between market and social projects depends on the price you charge per square meters. If you run a market price, then non-market participants obviously cannot take it if they don’t have a subsidy. If there is no grant that could help them operate with market rents, then you have to go down if you want to create social value.

What is the relationship between the tenants? Do they compete purely or is there any kind of communication?

I don’t think there is any strong competition at the moment because they all do something different. There are some synergies but I don’t think they cooperate as well as they could. And even the sourcing is as strong as it could be, but what works quite well, is the grocery store sourcing from our market vendors. There is also a small place for bike delivery service. The concept behind Stará Tržnica is that we go a little bit down in price, because we don’t do it for profit, and therefore we can have these social value businesses here. One way of supporting them is the lower rent, another is that we allow them to deduct certain investments they did, from the rent over the course of ten years.

What was your impact on the surroundings? 

The neighbouring streets changed dramatically in the last couple of years. Many shops were closed, and the buildings created dead facades. The bars around were only serving elderly men, and now they have become very popular also for younger people. Besides the spontaneous effects, we are quite unhappy about some of the squares near the market hall, and created proposals to the City about how they could develop those areas, program, manage and administer them. We already helped to revitalise some premises in the neighbouring streets, bringing in new tenants – shops for design, bikes and books – in the ground floor of a quite ruined building adjacent to the market hall. There we used the same principle as in the market: they invested themselves in the reconstruction and that was deducted from their rent. We had a concept for the whole building but it was not realised in the end. But it was a model for us to move towards a kind of a niche development: if there is a building where you need to put strong social value, community value, not only economic value, we can provide this.