Lesley Bamberger, CEO Kroonenberg Groep 

Lesley Bamberger is CEO of Kroonenberg Groep one of the country’s biggest private real estate entrepreneurs. He gave us a warm welcome at Gelderlandplein, the high-end shopping centre Kroonenberg Groep owns in Amsterdam Zuid. With the completion of Q Residences in Buitenveldert and the new office building at Apollolaan 171, the visibility of the company has significantly grown in the area. Kroonenberg Groep has a reputation for attention to the environment and details. The company is always looking for opportunities in and around the capital, though growth is never a goal in itself. “Long-term sustainable development”, is what Lesley calls it. We sat down with him to talk about this, the link between Buitenveldert and Zuidas and more.

For a long time, Buitenveldert was not a popular place to live. That is very different now. What happened?
“It seems like the gravitational field keeps expanding out of Amsterdam. Buitenveldert may have less flair, but it is evolving in that regard. The big advantage is that property prices are still a lot lower than in Amsterdam Zuid. It also owes its increased popularity to Zuidas, which has become something of a corridor between Amsterdam Zuid and Buitenveldert. It’s a safe, healthy and comfortable place to live, and Buitenveldert is very green as well. And it has good transport links.”

In 2008, Kroonenberg Groep acquired a number of properties including the Gelderlandplein shopping centre, which underwent a large-scale renovation which was completed in 2016. Did you see the latent potential here all along?
“The shopping centre has an excellent location and we really went for superior businesses and quality. Judging from the visitor numbers, it paid off. Visitors of the shopping mall have free parking for ninety minutes in the shopping centre’s underground car park, or even for two and a half hours in the adjacent car park. The retail selection is important, obviously, but so are the surroundings. Another thing we did was to set up our own bus service for better access, the Gelderlandpleinlijn. This bus line has been a collaboration between the District and GVB. Since December 2015, we have been providing free public transportation in Buitenveldert and the Zuidas. At that time, GVB eliminated 12 stops from bus 62, which compromised the accessibility of Buitenveldert. Forces were combined between Kroonenberg Groep, District Zuid, and GVB resulting in the Gelderlandplein line. Meanwhile, the bus line has become an integral part of the area, transporting many people daily from both the Zuidas to the shopping center and from Buitenveldert. We are looking at ways to make the pedestrian route from Zuidas more attractive, too. We see lots of people walking from their offices towards Gelderlandplein around lunch hour. We like to call it the ‘suit parade’. Making that route nicer is important, but it’s not all up to us as we’re working in consultation with the municipality. I personally would tackle the pedestrian route to the second block of VU as well.”


According to the municipality, there are opportunities to build more housing in Buitenveldert. What’s your take on this?
“It’s true that the district office is looking at building more homes on Europaboulevard, more floors on residential buildings or more high-rises in the area. Space is very limited in Amsterdam. More homes in Zuidas would mean even less space for green landscaping though. Buitenveldert has more room available for housing. Adding stories to existing residences costs a lot, is drastic and too slow, so I think we need to be more flexible about the zoning. It’s the only way to put up more homes. The public works building where the municipality currently stores all kinds of vehicles and equipment would be a good spot to build a lot of housing. It’s a massive area. I am all for infilling. There is space enough in this country for new housing, but not so much in Amsterdam.”

You have called Zuidas an introverted district. Can you explain what you mean by this?
“There is amazing architecture, of course, but not much tying the buildings and squares in Zuidas together. And there is still not much to do here at weekends. Most of the action happens inside. I think it’s a shame that there is so little space for planting, because it makes the area uninviting to walk around. Some small adjustments could make a big difference. More planting along Gustav Mahlerlaan, for example, seems easy enough. Just look at Apollolaan. The green strip is flourishing and appealing. And the viaduct under the A10 between the AkzoNobel office and Valley needs to be spruced up. It’s incomprehensible to have such a bridge between two such fabulous buildings look like that.”


How would you solve this?
“Landscaping can create a nice atmosphere, but you have to think big. So: trees, paving, renovation of public spaces. The problem in Zuidas is that everyone only wants to take responsibility for their own building. What’s needed, I think, is an overarching area management vision setting out steps, and then for building owners to formally work together. Only then can you develop a shared vision and make agreements with the municipality about local improvements. There needs to be a much bigger focus on quality and keeping the area clean, whole and safe. At Gelderlandplein I have the advantage that I get to call the shots. We will always be committed to quality. And my friends all shop at Gelderlandplein, so of course they force me to stay on top of things here and keep it looking smart!”, Lesley says with a big smile.