Business talk whit the richiest Croat- Maja Ruth Frenkel - 'I do not give up'

Maja Ruth Frenkel (45), a former Deputy Minister of Economy of Minister Goranko Fižulić and wife of Israeli entrepreneur Aaron Frenkel, with whom she is trying to realize the first real golf course above Dubrovnik since 2006, speaks for newspaper ‘’Nedeljini jutarnji list’’ about all the problems they are facing whit in this mega investment which should significantly improve the offer of Croatian tourism.  


Richest Croat today, Maja Brinar Frenkel has started her career in Agrokor and before her marriage to an Israeli entrepreneur Aaron Frenkel, she worked as Deputy Minister of Economy of Minister Goranko Fižulić, dealing with the privatization of public companies. On the day when the concession contract for the development of Golf Park on Srđ was signed and by which the Dubrovnik could be launched into a whole new dimension of tourism, her daughter Daniela was born. Since then, ten years has past, and thyme is still growing on the Srđ. First, the project was stopped on the political - environmental level; then there was one failed referendum, and in order to protect world's cultural heritage from golf balls even UNESCO has been called for help, but nothing of that was helpful and successful. In the end, the project has reached a new stage. Project found itself in front of bureaucracy swamp, through which investors in Croatia have to tread in very large boots. It looks like Maja Brinar Frenkel, today Maja Ruth Frenkel, will become a proud mother of a student befor golfers will come to the Srđ.

Are you not tired fighting for a 10 years with all these brakesman?

I concentrate only on positive experiences. After all, the referendum on which the citizens significantly did not want to go out, beacause they clearly opted for development and quality content, not only for tourists but also for the citizens. 15 years ago in Dubrovnik there was discussion about extension of the season as the far goal, and today that is no longer an utopia. Things are happening, but quality content has to be added to this process.

Do you think that Dubrovnik today, except of its historical heritage, even has a complementary content to such a spectacular project? Golf Park in Srđ will be only the second real golf course in Croatia at all.

When it is ready, I'm sure that this will be the first golf course, not only in Croatia but in this part of the Mediterranean. In fact, we want to make something that would be a game changer in this part of the Mediterranean, which will radically change the quality of services, tourism, architecture and overall concept of the tourist offer, and Dubrovnik has this potential. Nowdays the James Bond movie will be shoot in Dubrovnik, and we want  Dubrovnik to be a destination where James Bond lives. I do not see any reason why Dubrovnik would not be like Monte Carlo. At this point tourists in Dubrovnik stay three and half nights on average. With this, no one can be satisfied, nor politics, nor businesses companies or citizens.

Secured finances

How do you see the situation on the Croatian market?

Foreign Direct Investments, therefore, in macroeconomics are the only real investment and therefore the whole of Europe is only thinking about how to be more attractive precisely for such investments. Here you have a foreign investor, who has secured the finances for the first phase, which is not served by loans, but it is financed by equity funds and things are still not happening. We do not have a problem with the citizens of Dubrovnik nor with businesses companies. They are flexible, they immediately see their chance and there is no day that someone is not pulling our hand and asking us, when we will start. They are calculating that someone will be able to open a hair salon or a restaurant, to hire some of relatives, because we need highly educated people who speak  languages and keep pace with new trends in tourism. It's no longer only pizza and ice cream, but such people are leaving Croatia today.

But, ten years ago you knew what kind of administratively situation is waiting for you in Croatia. Was your investment  more emotional or business character like?

Still it is more emotional because I'm Croatian and I want to do something that will be the pride of my children. It is clear that the total investment has a market and profit basis. My husband comes from the world of business and he would never have invested in something that has no profit potential, but in my case, the motivation is to do something that everyone can be proud of, really exists as well. If I was not a Croat, and if I do not know the language and political relations and if I do not have that intense of desire, it is clear that in these conditions any other investor would give up.

Have you had problems with the administration just because you're a Croat?

I think that the main challenge in Croatia, as for the state and for the local governments have never had such a big greenfield investment, which is practically starting from the meadows and they simply do not have enough experience to know how to talk about the project in a transparent manner. I should have, like the investor, not as a Croat, all doors opened, to have the opportunity to put the issue on the table and to talk openly about how to solve a problem. This investment cannot be realized if we do not go with the City "hand by hand" as partners. In addition to contractual relations, partnerships, in the working process there will be some problems which have to be solved on a daily basis. The Government should say ’’yes, the investments are necessary for us and the investor may not be alone in the project." Today, the general situation is that you are feeling that someone is doing a favor to you, if he is even listening, and then all of them are moving away and letting that problem to be resolved by ourselves because no one wants to take responsibility. If the national consensus is that we want the investments, such as it was the consensus that we want to join the EU, then the process has to be stabilized and preconditions and clear and solid legal framework has to be created.

No one decides

In many case, there is a problem because there is no experience with such a large investment?

On the lower levels, that is exactly the case; people have no experience, there is no example by which they could be guided. I do not want to say that they do not have enough trained professional services, but from their perspective, they are not always able to see the size of such a project and then they are not making decisions. Sometimes, with all the knowledge, there is simply not enough of them, there is no capacity. At the higher level the consensus is needed, ‘we want investments’, because now it looks like that certain officials are doing  favours for someone.

Your family is doing work in other countries. Is there a country in transition, from which we could "rewrite" something?

My husband is doing investments in Prague, and he has invested in Poland, and as soon as he showed the interest there, he received a letter of support. Everyone wanted to meet with him and to see how they can help in the process to make him, to invest as soon as possible and as much as possible. That creates new values, jobs, and new tax revenues. I do not know if there is something we can rewrite from theirs laws, but you can look at any other project in Croatia – for issuing the permit you need ten years. Please tell me, which investor has the nerves, time and money to wait so long. Croatia is not a market of 400 million inhabitants, so that the investor can handle with that. There are better chances in the world.



The project on Srđ has a part of the public facilities, how will it look like?

Actually, the entire resort on Srđ will be a huge public park with a number of thematic units - walking, biking and riding trails, with big fitness center also, because in the City today there is no something like that, with kind of restaurants that Dubrovnik today still do not have in sufficient numbers, the amphitheater where the world's largest stars can perform, and Dubrovnik is missing that in biggest part of the year. The ninety percent of the resort is meant to be a public park with amenities for people of all ages.

They accuse you for apartmanization of the area?

Of the 310 hectares, we can use ten percent of the space on which we can build. We never ran away from the fact that we want to make a profit. We are funding the entire project and a source of profit to us are villas and hotels. There is one smaller hotel up to a 100 rooms and one larger with 250 rooms. At this point we are not going with the construction of apartments. Now, we are going just with villas. When we talk about villas, think of it by this way - you have 310 hectares and 240 villas, this is less of a villa per hectare. We are planning villas from 700-1100 square meters, and only a couple of them will be 1600 square meters.

What will be the business model for the villas? Would they go in ‘’time share’’ or?

Resort on Srđ will function as a top destination, and today  that is not enymore just to built a hotel and rent the rooms. You need 24 hours of ‘’concierge service’’ every day in the year, which would be led by the company that will do management for whole resort. This means that the owner of the villa will call 3 days earlier and the milk which he drinks will be waiting for him, the babysitter if is necessary, the staff.... everything that the owner of villa is accustomed in his everyday life or whatever he wants to have while he is on vacation. They will organize him a trip to Mljet, bring the flowers, make a garden, etc. One part of the villas is designed for the sale and the other part will be rented for the hotel, because today hotels do not rent rooms only, but suites and villas outside of the object. Such a practice already exists in Dubrovnik.

Should the City plan the public part of the area?

According the UPU and location permit, we need to have all planned.  We have just hired one international ‘’landscaper’’, who has been paid a lot and he should make a sketch of the entire area. I would like to have thematic parks, let’s say parks for the children, park of the Homeland war in which many things could be organized, like a paintball.  I wish that citizens have the motivation to come often on trip to Srđ and spend the whole day there, but also that these people really have desire to go from one park to another.  We want that Srđ lives in full as many days possible during the year.

Controversies over the Museum

What is going on with the Museum of the Homeland War, whose location in the Fort Imperial is a ‘’ stumbling rock’’ for a years?

The location is now agreed, but for me,more important is the content of that Museum, to have multimedia, to be modern and the kind of the Museum which the City of Dubrovnik and the families of veterans deserve. Today, it is not like that, although the Srđ is annually visited by almost half million visitors, of which only part of them visit the Museum. I would like that every second visitor visit Museum in the future, if not every visitor who comes on Srđ with the cable car. I know that the dispute lasted long, but we have really offered larger space for which we considered to be a bit better in terms of museum. We have followed the recommendations of Heritage department, taking care of approach and the space for handicaps and etc. From the other side, we understood reaction of the people who fought right here and some of them unfortunately died. Whatever they prefer, for us it is fine. We have had only a good intention.

The dispute about Museum was related to the controversy about moving the Antenna Tower located on the Fort Imperial.

This is striking example of what is happening to investors in our country. You have situation where state-owned company, which should be a legalist, doesn’t have ‘’papers‘’ in order for the area where Antenna Tower is situated and the request of the Heritage department is that nothing stands 50m from the Fort which is a protected historical building, nothing within the distance of 50 m can be built. And Antenna Tower is right on the Fortress. Imagine, that today someone requests to set antenna for mobile phones on Fort Minčeta? So far we have not found someone to talk about that, to solve this thing.  There are too many agencies, too many administrations.  We had a support of the Agency for investments, but they also got stuck on that same issue like; on which door someone should knock to finally clear the situation? We have struggled for six months to prove that none of our facilities will be seen from Dubrovnik, and that it will not disturb the aesthetic appearance of the City. And Antenna Tower is aesthetically nice to you? We do not run away, we even want to help in its relocation, but simply we cannot find anyone with whom we would be able to talk about it.


‘’Dubrovnik has potential. Now days the James Bond movie will be shoot in Dubrovnik and we want Dubrovnik to be destination where James Bond lives. I don’t see any reason why Dubrovnik would not be like Monte Carlo’’

The citizens of Dubrovnik are afraid of pesticides that will treat golf areas because it could contaminate water supply?

Ecology should be above politics, when politics becomes a business, it is a danger to society. Our golf courses will work according to the latest environmental standards and we are doing it much, much more expensive than it is usual, with the protective measures that now I do not know how the expertly explained. In any case, the studies have shown that nothing will go in karst terrain, and the dump yard on the Grabovica and settlement on Ivanica are far greater ganger for Dubrovnik water supply. The studies have shown that an apple orchard release more pollutants in the soil than the golf course, but some people are simply by principle against the golf.

Well, you might have to invest something else into Srd?

We showed up when the County Urban plan and GUP have already been defined that on the Srđ should be a golf park on 350 hectares. We have entered in legally defined space and based on that we have made investment. Any changes of the plan would mean making direct benefit to the investor on one side or direct damage to the investor.

So you invest where the municipal contribution of the golf courses are ten times higher than anywhere else in Croatia and in the surrounding area?

No, it has been increased for a ten times two years ago, when they realized that we do not give up.

Lot of hope was put on UNESCO that they will bring down your project, but you got their support. Now we hear that this support is based on the parameters of 1979, and that the project would not be able to meet the new standards. Apparently you have to make a study of light pollution, which will be created by the project?

When someone is negative, it is difficult to talk. I was thrilled when UNESCO said that everything was fine, but my husband has accepted it as normal. We have already made one study, and if we need to do another study of light pollution, of course we will make it.

Is Aaron stopped being upset about this project?

Today and 10 years ago, the investment climate in the world is not the same and it is not great. No one knows how the market will move, Croatia's credit rating falls and GDP stands. If we do not realize that GDP growth is very important, there will be no luck. Investors will go in their way. Aaron is not nervous. He has seen that I was very active and ambitious in this project, we have our own money for the first phase, but we will start the whole thing only when we see that we have a partner in the local administration.

And that administration is afraid that they will build your infrastructure and then, you may run away from the project.

The biggest risk is always on the side of investors. His risk is complete, but in such a Project you cannot go with hidden agenda. If he invests his own funds, and then the other side has to trust the investor as well. Nothing will be built on fear. We are obliged to pay the municipal contribution and we are not running away from it, and the local government should build infrastructure from that money as it is required by the law and because this infrastructure will be also used by others. Simply without our contribution there are no investments for the City. We can sit down and agree operationally that this structure will be built by us, but it must be contracted because the success of the Project is defined by money and time. If that is the case we do not want to go through public procurement which will then tear down and stretch all sorts of objections. So, what we want is to have a partner in the local administartion, with whom we will work transparently and on a daily basis.

Thousands of jobs

How many people is involved in work on the Project?

For now it is 11 people, and the concept is that the project dream-team will gather around 20 highly educated people, and the individual segments will be performed by best domestic and foreign companies. So far, about 20 companies from Dubrovnik has participated in the Project and I would like that most of the work will be done by domestic companies.

How many jobs will this Project provide?

More than a thousand, and this is a very conservative calculation. Usually in such a projects, the number of employees is multiplied with the coefficient of 2.5 per one bed, and we calculated with a coefficient of 0.75 and we came up with the number larger than a thousand employees.


Source: Jutarnji list, 29.05.2016., by Jadran Kapor