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IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK: China comes to bank square

With its myriad palazzo-style buildings lining the streets of Milan, most visitors to the city select particular collections among their must-see lists.

The oval-shaped Piazza Cordusio has been a landmark square in the Italian city since the medieval period, and has grown in significance through the course of history. During the conquest of Milan in 560 A.D. by the King of the Lombards, the Cordusio was the epicenter of all political and administrative life, even housing a courthouse at one point, and in the late 19th century it became the financial heart of the city. 

Headquarters of many financial institutions can still be found here, lending it the name ‘Square of the Banks’.

Nestled on one side of the square sits Palazzo Broggi, referred by some as the Palazzo del Credito Italiano. The 505,903 square foot former headquarters of Credito Italiano, one of Italy’s most important banks which later merged with other banks to form Unicredit, is the largest building in the Cordusio. It is also among the oldest.

A major part of the building was constructed in 1902 by Luigi Broggi, a prominent Italian architect. It stands adjacent to many Neo-Renaissance and Art Nouveau-styled buildings such as the former Milan stock exchange, the palace of the Italian insurance group Generali, and a post office built in 1903.

In July, the semi-circular building was able to add another chapter to its already substantial history book when it was sold to the Chinese conglomerate Fosun in what was dubbed as this year’s largest single asset sale in Italy. The deal was also the first ever by a Chinese institutional investor into Italian real estate.

19th and 20th century planning

Palazzo Broggi was Unicredit Group’s headquarters from 1901 until 2013, and over the years has gone through several expansions and refurbishments. The current eclectic shape of the building, an example of the planning philosophies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, finished construction in the 1960s under the supervision of the architect Giovanni Muzio.

Historical finishing, classic furniture and paintings can be found on the second floor, which had the management offices – until the bank shifted its headquarters to a glassy skyscraper in Porta Nuova in 2013 – while the remaining four floors have other bank offices with modern finishing. Apart from UniCredit’s flagship bank branch, the ground floor also has a designated space for hosting art exhibitions. Appropriately named as the UniCredit Studio, it has held exhibits by several young artists over the years, turning the building into a perfect juxtaposition of money and culture.

In 2008, UniCredit reportedly transferred more than €1.2 billion of property assets, including Palazzo Broggi, to a real estate fund managed by the Italian fund manager IDea Fimit, which, in June last year, put the property on the market for a public tender, asking a price between €350 million and €450 million.

According to local news reports, the landmark property attracted bids from around 80 investors, of which the final frontrunners included: The Blackstone Group, Hines Italia and Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund, ADIA. ADIA’s plans at the time were to eventually convert the property into a Harrods store.

The fate of the historic Palazzo Broggi was ultimately sealed by the hands of Fosun which paid €345 million. It is believed that when Fosun placed its first offer, UniCredit still had 12 years left on its lease. It took some negotiation to settle on a deal, but ultimately it was agreed the property would remain leased to the bank for two years more.

After that, expect Fosun to embark on something of an overhaul of the asset with some commentators expecting it to be one of the largest urban redevelopment projects in continental Europe. While precise details of the plan haven’t officially been disclosed yet, people closely involved suggest the redeveloped property could see it become an amalgamation of retail outlets, offices, luxury hotels and service apartments. The ground floor and the first two floors are likely to be earmarked for retail, aptly meshing with the surrounding streets which offer visitors mass market retail as well as high-end fashion brands.

And so thanks to this forthcoming investment, there’s plenty still in store for a building so steeped in history.