Eastbanc Portugal – Sprucing up Lisbon’s Príncipe Real district

 In Development, Housing, News, Property, Residential Real Estate, Urban Rehabilitation

Eastbanc Portugal, with its focus on urban regeneration, has a portfolio of properties worth over €115 million in Lisbon spread over 20 buildings in the Príncipe Real district and it doesn’t stop there.

Text: Chris Graeme; Photo: American Club of Lisbon

Twenty years ago, Lisbon’s Príncipe Real district was rundown and forgotten. A place merely on the way from Rato to Baixa Chiado where tourists and local youth stopped off to have a cocktail at the trendy and unique Chinese Pavilion before heading off into the bustling bar nightlife of Bairro Alto.

That was until Eastbanc moved in to the city with ambitious plans to revitalise this neighbourhood that had been fashionable among the aristocracy and upper classes in the 19th century with its upper crust villas and elegant mansions.

Eastbanc Portugal was set up as a subsidiary of US company Eastbanc Inc., a property development and management company that specialises in the acquisition, renovation, and management of real estate assets with a particular focus on urban regeneration.

Founded by Anthony Lanier and based in Washington DC, the company completely renovated the city’s Georgetown neighbourhoods. Born in Brazil, raised in Vienna and married to a Portuguese wife, Anthony Lanier is a visionary and, like Dick Whittington, the streets he treads really do seem to turn to gold.

The entrepreneur developer masterminded a 30-year project to revitalise a rundown part of Georgetown, a historic entertainment district in Washington around the theme of ‘design’ and became nicknamed the ‘King of Georgetown’

Before the redevelopment that made the neighbourhood totally cool, Georgetown had become a urban degradation nightmare in the 1970s and 1980s of dark, dingy dive bars; an area you didn’t want to be wandering late at night, unless you were after a trick or a fix; the kind of nightmare not far off from the 1973 film ‘The Exorcist’ which, by the way, was set and filmed there.

The urban renovation master has been applying the same recipe to Lisbon’s Príncipe Real; not that it was anything like pre-development Georgetown; by investing €100 million by buying up, restoring and adapting a string of mansions, becoming the single most important investor in the neighbourhood, and one of the most important ones in the Portuguese capital.

Lanier has been working with award-winning Portuguese architects such as Eduardo Sotto de Moura. He converted the moorish-style Ribeiro da Cunha palace into gin bar, and boutique shops selling Portuguese handicraft leather goods and clothes, and a garden restaurant where the stables had been. Now there are plans to convert much of the building into a five-star hotel in a €20 million investment.

Known as the Embassy (Embaixada) the new 50-room hotel located on the opposite side of the street from the Príncipe Real Gardens, a popular open air afternoon tea and weekend artisan market street venue, hopes to attract an upmarket hotel chain to manage the property.

The developer was also behind the renovation of the Faria Palacete, which received four awards as the best residential refurbishment project in Lisbon and/or Portugal in 2020.

The company therefore became one of the main property developers in the Portuguese urban regeneration market, and today holds 40,000m2 of Gross Lettable Area (GLA) in real estate development and management in offices, condominiums, hotels, and student residences.

A long-term strategy

The company follows a long-term strategy of continuous development of its assets, paired with acquisitions in this neighbourhood of choice and other areas of the city, always looking at regeneration. Larger projects, however, are also being developed from scratch.

Tiago Eiró says that as investors with a long-term invested interest in Lisbon, its plan has always been to create timeless value from its real estate assets by developing unique and differentiating projects in different activity segments focused on quality urban regeneration projects for people to live, work and shop in the same neighbourhood.

For example, Eastbanc Portugal has earmarked €70 million of investment for commercial and real estate projects to 2027 as part of the revitalisation plan for the Príncipe Real quarter of Lisbon that it began almost 20 years ago.

Currently it has eight new projects in its portfolio including housing, student residences, hospitality, and offices.

“We’re going to invest €70 million over the next three years, divided between these eight projects, which are all at different phases of development”, says Tiago Eiró when he launched its new Anjos Urban Palace in February 2024.

Located on Rua da Escola Politécnica, Anjos Urban Palace is a lynchpin in the developer’s plan to create the 15-minute city concept.

“We believe in the 15-minute concept and thankfully we think that the neighbourhood already has a fair amount of housing and trade, but lacks quality office spaces so that people can also come and work in the district”, he says.

This is why Eastbanc Portugal changed the plans that it had for Anjos Urban Palace, retaining its office space as it has over the past 10 years instead of converting it into housing as had been the initial plan.

With €7 million of investment (excluding acquisition costs), work has been ongoing since June, 2023 with completion slated for the summer of 2025. Sales have been mandated to real estate consultants Savills and CBRE.

The projects already completed include Alegria One on the city’s posh Avenida da Liberdade (residential and retail), Palácio Faria (Residential), while those ongoing include PPR 28 (Offices), REP 38 (Residential and Commerce), Quarteirão DPV (Retail and Hospitality), Rep 48 (Residential and Retail), Palacete Castilho (Offices and Retail), and PPR 11 (Offices).

As for projects under development, these include RR32 (Residential and Retail), Rua da Alegria 76 (Residential), and REP 89 (Services, Retail and Residential).

At an event organised by the American Chamber of Commerce in Portugal in February, on ‘Expectations and Prospects for the Economy in 2024’, Eastbanc CEO Tiago Eiró gave his take on the Lisbon real estate development market and some of the projects Eastbanc Portugal has been involved in over the past two decades.

Tiago Eiró said that the main challenges for the real estate sector in Portugal continued to be high interest rates and issues surrounding the time it takes to get planning permission from local and city authorities, as well as a scarcity of qualified labour and a growing concern over sustainability, the later of which could be turned into an opportunity. “Investing in talent and maintaining high standards of quality is vital, and we’re very optimistic”, he said.

The Eastbanc Portugal CEO also highlighted the importance of US investment in the country which was long term.

Ending the Golden Visa questionable

“Portugal is in the international spotlight, driven by a very dynamic real estate market, even in comparison to the US market which is more cautious and adopting a wait and see attitude”.

Eiró also cast doubts on the previous PS socialist government to abandon or severely curtail the property options on its range of investment visas such as the Golden Visa and Non-Habitual Residents schemes.

“In a global world, the changes to the Golden Visa programme has only given opportunities for other countries as investors shift their investments to these,” he said.

Nevertheless, he pointed out that there was “a lot of liquidity in the world and we ourselves are raising capital to invest more. We want to continue to invest in luxury housing, social housing and housing for young people because this is the way to create balanced communities in urban neighbourhoods, and that is precisely what we are doing in Príncipe Real.”

Eiró also emphasised that in the US these mixed neighbourhoods of different income classes was supported by the American and city governments and exemplified a model that could inspire similar diversification in Portugal.

It was precisely this idea that Eastbanc founder Anthony Lanier had applied to rundown districts in Washington and wanted to replicate in Lisbon.

“We were lucky that Georgetown was the ‘murder capital of the world,’ no one wanted to live there, least of all that vicinity of T-shirts and bars. At the time Washington had a drinking age that was 18-years-old and the rest was 21. If you wanted to get ‘stoned’ you went to Washington, particularly Georgetown, where there were so many bars and that was what we were looking at” he told the American Club of Lisbon at a Real Estate Meet-up event in 2019*. (*The CEO of Eastbanc Portugal, Tiago Eiró would pay a return visit to the club at its IX Real Estate Meet-up in May which featured presentations from Arrow Global and Norfin on real estate development in Lisbon and the Algarve).

Lanier bought 70 buildings without any competition over two years, with credit, IOUs and the help of the sellers who wanted to get out of Georgetown.

Applying the same model to Lisbon, Lanier said: “I had always loved Lisbon. It is a city which is full of secrets. We stated with Lisbon for my first overseas project because my wife is Portuguese and we had visited so often and she loved the beaches.”

Lanier began looking at real estate and convinced some German institutions that Portugal was overdue for a boom. The result was that Eastbanc bought up real estate safe in the knowledge that Lisbon would undergo a revitalisation.

“At that time the feeling was things couldn’t get worse. Lisbon was a city falling apart, rundown and very old” he noted. The time was ripe to buy and regenerate.

And now, since the pandemic, it seems a lot of Americans want to get out of parts of the United Sates too, just like they had wanted to get out of Georgetown before it was spruced up, with Portugal as the hot destination of choice because of its relatively stable political situation, reasonable cost of living and low crime rate.

“The arrival of a significant number of Americans in Portugal will continue to contribute towards boosting quality developments in the Portuguese real estate market”, concludes Tiago Eiró, CEO of Eastbanc Portugal.