A belief that Milan is in the same league as Europe’s big cities has led Manfredi Catella, founder and CEO of Coima, to take a leading role in the transformation of Italy’s economic and business capital.
“There is a race on between cities in Europe to be the best at regeneration and sustainability,” he says – and it’s a healthy competition that Milan wants to win.
It began with Porta Nuova, the €2 billion development that changed the city’s skyline and put it on the map for international investors, attracting some of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds.
The project, which included the prize-winning Bosco Verticale, or Vertical Forest, was a game-changer that proved urban regeneration could work in Milan and that Italy could create national champions with European standards of best practice.
For Milan and London-educated Catella that was just the start. Near Porta Nuova Coima is developing a mixed-use project called Pirelli 39, which involves the regeneration of the existing Pirellino office tower to make it ‘green’ and the construction of a 25-storey residential tower entirely covered in 1,700 sq m of trees and vegetation.
Porta Romana and the Olympic Village project is the latest in a string of projects that are transforming Milan. It will regenerate a long-neglected area and will be a prime example of impact investing, Catella tells Real Asset Insight.
“Impact investing is a key part of the project and the ESG goals are intentional and measurable,” he says. Catella launched the €1 billion ESG City Impact Fund, the first impact investing fund in Italian real estate.
‘The Olympic Village will be designed with its final use in mind, so from the very beginning it will be dual use, with attention paid to the transition and the final destination.’
Manfredi Catella, Coima
“It is a relatively simple masterplan that wants to reconnect two parts of the city that had been cut off by the railway tracks,” Catella explains. “The Elevated Forest, a New York-style High Line, will link the east and west of the site, creating a pedestrianised elevated walkway with green spaces all around.”
The green component is crucial. The operational railway lines will be moved underground to create a 100,000 sq m park on top with paths to connect the new buildings and to link to Milan’s centre.
Last year the Porta Romana real estate investment fund, led by Coima, won the competitive tender for the disused railway yard in Milan, acquiring it for €180 million with partners Covivio and Prada Holding.
Porta Romana will host the Olympic Village for the athletes of the 2026 Winter Olympics, and after the Games are over the accommodation will become student housing with around 1,000 beds.
“It is a sensitive project because it’s a partnership between the Lombardy region, the Milan municipality, the Olympic Committee and the developer,” says Catella. “But the important thing is that the Olympic Village will be designed with its final use in mind, so from the very beginning it will be dual use, with attention paid to the transition and the final destination.”
Around half of the project, 110,000 sq m, is residential, of which 50% will be affordable housing, including student accommodation.
That is the easy part, says Catella: “Activating the public realm on the ground level, integrating the outside space and the indoor space is the real challenge,” he says. “We’ll choose experiential, ESG-driven retailers which will make it an interesting place to be and organise innovative cultural events which attract people, as we have seen in Porta Nuova. In Porta Romana we have the Prada Foundation which is already a great cultural attraction in the city.”
Looking ahead, Coima has worked to strengthen its role in the market. “We are changing the organisation so that the impact approach works across all operations, creating a fully integrated industrial model with stable and solid ownership,” Catella says.
Coima’s three divisions – investment asset management, project management and development and building operations – are being combined to simplify the structure. “Our three legs are now working together,” he says.