It is a building that will permanently change Hamburg's skyline. The future tallest building in the Hanseatic city has been under construction on the banks of the Elbe for around two years. The “Elbtower” will rise 245 meters into the sky. It would also be the third tallest skycraper in Germany, designed by the office of star architect David Chipperfield.
Offices, shops and a hotel are scheduled to open in the high-rise in 2025, and a viewing platform is also planned. But the schedule is in danger of being seriously disrupted. Because the construction work is now at a standstill - no crane is moving anymore. The “Elbtower” seems to be built on sand.
The news of the halt to construction on the prestigious project in the Hafencity district hit Hamburg City Hall like a bombshell. Those responsible found out about this from the “Hamburger Abendblatt” before the weekend. The local newspaper reported that the construction company Lupp from Nidda in Hesse was waiting for payments from the “Elbtower” owner. It is not known how much money is involved.
The owner is no stranger. The project is being developed by a subsidiary of Signa Holding of the dazzling Austrian “Galeria Karstadt Kaufhof” owner René Benko – and his company is apparently in financial difficulties. For a few days now, the billion-dollar empire has been making a name for itself with bad news.
For example, Signa Sports United, which includes the online shops “Fahrrad.de” and “Tennis-Point”, has filed for bankruptcy. The company “Sportscheck” was sold. The Viennese news magazine "News" recently reported that after many successful years, Signa Holding has a loss of around 500 million euros in its books for 2022 - deep red figures.
According to the “Bild” newspaper, billionaire Benko has long since hired Germany’s best-known insolvency expert Arndt Geiwitz. “Is the Karstadt billionaire running out of money?” asks the tabloid. And the trade press also sees Benko's general goods empire in danger. “For the Austrian real estate king René Benko and the Signa Group he founded, it’s now all about the whole thing,” writes “Wirtschaftswoche”. “The signals of crisis are increasing – how tight will things be for René Benko?” asks the business magazine “Capital”, which, like stern, is part of RTL Deutschland.
The group itself rejects all assumptions about a tense financial situation. Capital increases in which existing investors brought in fresh money should serve as evidence - most recently in the amount of 400 million euros at the umbrella company Signa Holding.
And yet: The fact that not everything goes according to plan can also be observed at a second Signa construction site in Hamburg. Construction work on the new “Gänsemarkt-Passage” in the city center was also stopped in mid-October. The space is now lying idle - supposedly because there aren't enough tenants yet and the banks have therefore turned off the money for Signa. When the construction workers will arrive again at the Gänsemarkt is just as unclear as it is for the “Elbtower” construction site three kilometers further south.
People in Hamburg City Hall are alarmed. "The construction stop on the Elbtower is an embarrassment for Signa. We now expect an immediate explanation from Signa as to how things should proceed. From the city's perspective, construction work must be resumed immediately," said SPD parliamentary group leader Dirk Kienscherf to the "Abendblatt". It is also interesting that Hafencity GmbH, which is responsible for the development of the district, was not informed by Signa about the construction stop.
For critics of the project, the construction halt is likely to be grist for the mill. From the outset, it was warned that the skyscraper would be built out of demand, and there were also fears that it would spoil the cityscape of the Elbe metropolis, which is traditionally skeptical of high-rise buildings. But despite all the criticism, the Senate of the Hanseatic city pushed through the project from 2017. The first mayor back then: today's Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), which led to the mocking name "Olaf Scholz Tower" for Hamburg's new landmark.
So far, the "Elbtower" has grown around 100 meters high, and a skeleton made of reinforced concrete can be seen on the Elbe bridges - now there is a risk that it will stay that way for the time being. The Signa Group did not comment on the construction stop when asked by several media outlets. However, the managing director of the Lupp construction company is now confident that he will get his money soon. “We are in close contact with the investors, the Signa Group and CommerzReal about this. As things stand today, we assume that construction site activity can be resumed in a timely manner,” he said.
Sources: "Hamburger Abendblatt" (1), "Hamburger Abendblatt" (2), City of Hamburg, "Elbtower", "News", "Wirtschaftswoche", "Capital", DPA news agency