Bata's first factory town gets a 21st century polish

Wed Oct 31, 2012 1:18pm EDT
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By Jason Hovet

PRAGUE (Reuters) - When Tomas Bata turned the Czech town of Zlin into a global shoe capital and created a "utopian" factory village for his workers almost a century ago, his red-brick architecture won widespread praise from the likes of Le Corbusier as a "shining phenomenon".

By the 1930s, the Bata company had built Europe's second-highest skyscraper, with its own mobile office tucked in an elevator. Workers lived a short walk from the factory in "Bata houses", and Zlin's 2,000-plus-seat cinema was Europe's largest.

A world war and four decades of communism has taken some of the shine off Zlin since then. Bata has not produced shoes there for more than 70 years and dozens of the red-brick buildings in its giant factory complex fell into disrepair, something that has continued since the 1989 return of democracy.

But the architecture remains, and now public and private investors are in the final stages of a decade-old plan to restore the area with cafes, housing and entertainment centers.

The Zlin region will finish a 900 million crown ($43.79 million) overhaul of two Bata buildings next to the railway station that will house a museum, library and gallery for the Bata Institute next year.

Blocks away, private developer Cream Real Estate is building a 300 million crown residential, office and commercial project in a refurbished former Bata factory building.

"That time (of Bata) is over," said Martin Jarolim, Cream Real Estate's director. "We have to think about what we can do with so many buildings in such a large area in a smaller city like bring new life."