Like the campuses of Google, Apple, Amazon». What Softserve is planning to build.

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Tvoemisto.tv found out what is going to be built on the territory of a prison on Khutorivka street (now, John Paul II avenue), which was acquired by Ukrainian-Texan tech company SoftServe at an auction. And also, what significance it has for Lviv and the IT industry in general.

After the news that SoftServe became the owner of the former prison’s territory in Khutorivka, talk began that IT specialists would have their own place – a closed area with housing for programmers, futuristic offices, gyms and shops, and even with schools and kindergartens for their children. However, this is not quite true.

The company is convinced that their idea can change the whole area – to stimulate infrastructure development, as well as change the image of the city in Ukraine and even in the world. There are really plans to build offices, housing, school, kindergarten, university, and «something futuristic». What it will become for the city, why it’s not just about the IT industry and for the IT industry – Tvoemisto.tv spoke to a co-founder and member of the Board of Directors of SoftServe Oleh Denys to find out the answers.

The idea

Why does the company need these 10 hectares, acquired for more than 377 million uah? We know that the auction was «hot», and the price has almost tripled. What idea do you plan to implement in this area?

The idea of ​​building modern offices – and not just offices – has existed in the company for a long time. We were the first to build our own office on Sadova street. It was a successful project in terms of establishing the image. The company is growing, so later, together with the Lviv IT Cluster we started working on the IT Park project.

Projects like IT Park and SoftServe campus are needed for the city, because it can be a place of synergy of business, innovation, public space, educational institutions. Also this is an opportunity to interest and attract potential investors to Lviv. When a huge resource with huge opportunities is concentrated in one place, a potential investor looks at it in a completely different way. He sees potential here.

We remain members of IT Park. The first offices within this project will appear sooner than our company’s campus, as the architectural project has been already agreed and funding approved. But one IT Park does not meet the needs of the company, as SoftServe is growing fast. Today, we have 12 offices in Lviv and more than 4,000 employees. In total, the company employs more than 10,000 people. No matter how difficult the last year and a half were, they have led to the rapid growth of the IT industry – the needs of online businesses have increased, and the number of new projects and customers in companies has become bigger. Today, there is a great shortage of IT specialists in the global market.

Read also: Ukrainian-Texan tech firm to transform Lviv prison to global tech campus

Before the pandemic, businesses were hesitant whether to outsource some work or do it on their own, but when their developers started working from home, leaving the offices, the location lost its relevance – because it doesn’t matter if the programmer stays in New York or in Lviv. Accordingly, with the onset of the pandemic and remote work, the number of orders for Ukrainian IT companies has grown significantly. A large number of new clients and projects is a great challenge, but also an opportunity to show what we can.

We are monitoring the situation with the pandemic and tendencies in the world. We understand that not everyone will return to the offices. We could save on offices and move to fully remote work, and it would be possible, but on the other hand, we feel the need to do something colossal for our employees – a place to generate ideas, develop talent, share experiences, learn, communicate, inspire. Today, beautiful offices with glass facades and free coffee are not enough. Therefore, we want to create a separate environment where you want to work and live, where you want to come and spend your time.

Not the offices but the environment

So, what exactly will there be in that area?

When we heard the demand from the city that it shouldn’t be just housing, we supported it, because it fits into our philosophy, into our concept. We will do it openly, together with the city and the public, we will hold an architectural competition and announce a tender. It’s important for us to launch the development of the whole district, which truly has all the chances to become a new creative center of Lviv.

For SoftServe, this project is very significant. It is also important for the city, the Ministry of Justice and the State Property Fund. For instance, two auctions took place in parallel, and they weren’t successful. [Similiara] colonies weren’t sold in Irpin, as well as in Odesa.

There will be housing in this area, most of them – office premises. There will also be an educational component – on campus, our corporate university will be located, which has been engaged in training and retraining of our employees for many years, as well as in attracting students.

Also, a problem the industry is facing is the lack of an English-language school for expats (foreigners who come here to work). The company hires a specialist from abroad, and he cannot bring his family here because there is nowhere to send the child to an English-language school. This is faced by many of the businesses that are connected to the world. The English-language school will give a qualitative leap in positioning the city in the world.

To launch such facilities, we will study the demand and look for reliable partners, because we do not deal with schools or kindergartens.

Will it be only for IT workers?

There may be a lot of accusations against us that some kind of reservation is being built for IT employees, but this is not the case. The campus will be open to everyone. It would be wrong that a school and kindergarten are only available to IT professionals. The whole space will be open, but our employees will probably have some advantages.

You also said that there should be something significant on campus, perhaps the Museum of Science.

We would strongly desire this area to contain something significant and interesting for both Lviv residents and guests of the city. Conventionally, it can be a science museum, an experiment center, or an exhibition of a collection of old computers. By the way, we have 25-30 copies that you will not see anywhere else. It would be good to put them up so that people could see how the IT industry developed here in Lviv and what programmers used for work in the 90s. However, for now these are just ideas, we will also cooperate with the city and the public regarding such an iconic tourist component of the campus.

About air tram and two-level interchanges

Obviously, such a new and quite large-scale construction in this area will affect the modern infrastructure. Will it withstand?

In the general plans of the city there are such projects as a two-level interchange on Stryiska-Naukova crossroad. Maybe, it will be a catalyst, a reason for the city to invest in infrastructure development and join in the joint solution of urgent needs.

What is the size of the investment in question?

At this stage, it’s still impossible to announce. However, we are not talking about tens of millions, but rather hundreds.

And what about the time when this project might be realistically implemented?

The year will be spent on documents, competitions, a vision concept, then an architectural competition, design. Construction itself, I hope, will begin in one and a half to two years. Modern technology makes it possible to build quickly when everything is agreed and the projects are ready. According to my personal estimates, such a large object can actually be built in two or three years. But let’s see.

Do you plan to leave any mention of what was in that area before?

Our employees are already joking that we are putting IT professionals under solitary confinement. This place of the former penal colony is not very significant. It does not have any heavy historical or emotional burden. It is rather barracks, production, shops. It’s very similar to a military unit and quarters. However, someone told me that there is such a creative chain of hotels in the style of a pre-trial detention center. Maybe, someone will come and offer us such an idea.

So, to sum up, you are planning a school, kindergarten, university, housing, offices, laboratories on this campus…

Yes, and we are also planning conference halls, a hotel, and restaurants. We do not plan a shopping center, because [the market] Shuvar is nearby. By the way, our neighbors have a nice new project for the construction of a sports complex, an arena with an exhibition hall. During the development of the concept, it would be good to come together with all neighbors, the city, UCU (Ukrainian Catholic University), Shuvar, and look not only at the development of these 10 hectares, but at the whole district.

The general plan of Lviv also envisages the construction of a tram line to the bus station, to Vernadskoho street. There were also plans to build a pedestrian zone that would connect Khutorivka through a bus plant with IT Park and UCU. Andriy Ivanovych [Sadovyi, the city mayor] even talked about the futuristic idea of ​​air connections, air trams.

Fiction

In fact, there is nothing unreal about it. There must be desire, patience, and synergy. We urge you to look not only conceptually at what will be on those 10 hectares, but also how we are planning to build in this part of the city. We are not satisfied with the wording «an investor has come and he should build us a two-level interchange on Naukova street.» It’s probably our role to stimulate the solution of problems that have been brewing for decades.

What similar campuses in the world do you focus on?

We looked at similar projects – educational and business ones in Vienna, as well as analyzed the world’s most famous campuses – Google, Apple, etc.

So you focus on this scale?

Why not? This inferiority syndrome must be removed from Ukraine. Ukraine deserves better, we can do it. We have the opportunity to replicate all the best that they have already done in the world, but without repeating their mistakes.

For example, in Europe, many such campuses have been implemented, but now they are completely empty and unoccupied, and they were in such a state before the pandemic – the wrong place, the wrong concept or economic changes. We have the opportunity to look at the experience, to take into account the mistakes of others. This is a unique opportunity that those investors did not have. They could not imagine that people would not come to good offices, that it would be better for them to work from home.

Do you have IT campuses of this type in Ukraine, as you plan?

There are similar things in Kyiv. Quite a large area, a huge district on the territory of the plant in Kyiv, where they’ve built a university, offices, a campus. There is also housing, but as for other infrastructure, I don’t know.

UNIT.City – it’s the first innovation park in Ukraine, opened in Kyiv in 2017 on the territory of the former Kyiv Motorcycle plant. As of 2020, there are 108 resident companies in the innovation park.

ERSTE Bank campus in Vienna.

The campus of the Vienna University of Economics, among its designers one of the most famous bureaus «Zaha Hadid».

How did you choose the site, were there any other options at all?

In fact, there is not much space in Lviv for such a project. Workers in the industry are not yet ready to leave the city. Large office centers of Google, Apple, Amazon are outside the cities, there are huge areas. Our people aren’t ready yet. This will be the next step.

Of course, we looked at different areas. The auction in Khutorivka was quite unexpected.

What will this project give to the city and the industry?

It will give a qualitative leap to the industry, and today it shows the best pace of development and prospects. This is the third export industry in Ukraine. These will be qualitative changes for the city as well, we hope for them.

Main photo – ERSTE Bank campus in Vienna

Victoria Savitska spoke

Translated by Vitalii Holich

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