GLOBAL - The CAD35.7bn (€26.9bn) Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP) has made its first investment in the Czech Republic with the acquisition of two shopping centres via a joint venture with opportunistic UK property investment firm Meyer Bergman.

The joint venture partners acquired the assets for €300m from shopping centre developer Multi Corporation, who will stay on as property managers.

One is located north of Prague, the other in Ostrava, on the Polish border, the third largest Czech city with the second largest urban population. The Ostrava asset is still in development and scheduled to open in March next year.

Although neither asset is located in the capital or in Brno, the republic's second city, both shopping centres are strongly positioned in terms of catchment and the lack of competition from other nearby shopping centres of similar quality.

HOOPP has long invested in Canadian shopping centres that are regionally-dominant but not necessarily in prime locations, including a shareholding in the Brentwood Town Hall regional centre in British Columbia and Lansdown Place in Ontario.

However, the pension scheme is a relatively new entrant to the European property market. It made its first acquisition outside Canada last year via a 50% stake in a central London development project with The Crown Estate.

In addition to the acquisitions announced this week, the pension scheme is an investor in the Meyer Bergman European Retail Partners I fund, which made the acquisition on behalf of Meyer Bergman.

A spokesman for Meyer Bergman said the fund manager had opted for a joint venture with significant financial partner because it did not want to make such a large capital commitment to a single asset as a sole investor.

HOOPP's CAD5bn real estate allocation accounts for 11% of the overall portfolio - fairly conventionally invested with a view to risk management and diversification across geography and asset type. The fully funded multi-employer scheme views real estate as a "minimal risk" inflation hedge.