Number 04 - November 2011 

‘Westfield London’, Britain’s biggest shopping mall has just opened this year. This massive 265-store, glass-roofed shopping center represents an investment of $2.8 billion ! The centre’s owners; Westfield and Commerzbank AG are confident that the looming British recession; the worst since 1991, will not negatively affect the potential profits of the centre’s future.
Retail real estate stars at Mapic
Despite what is generally considered to be a very low level of retail projects in the pipeline, and considerable uncertainty surrounding some of the projects which are planned, Belgium has once again taken the opportunity to show off its stars at Mapic, the retail equivalent of property exhibition Mipim. The exhibition is taking place in Cannes at the moment. This is therefore an ideal opportunity not just to put the spotlight on some forthcoming projects in Belgium, but to take a wider look at what the longer term may hold in terms of shopping centres. The most logical place to start is with the recent ‘Shopping Centres of the Future’ seminar organised in Brussels by Editions & Séminaires. Peter Wilhelm, of Wilhelm & Co., said that he believes that connecting shopping centres to existing high streets will remain very important, as these latter generate human flows. “You have to create mixed use areas able to operate seven days a week”. Robert Bonwell, CEO of the retail department at Jones Lang LaSalle for the EMEA region introduced an extremely cautionary note, involving the inevitability of increasingly strict ‘green’ legislation which may go as far as preventing the sale of ‘non-green’ buildings: “Up to 15% of Shopping Centres could therefore be unsaleable by 2018!” He also warned of the best shopping centre in a region sucking in all the money and leaving the rest to die…
Change seems inevitable, but although the internet element in consumer shopping is undeniably on the increase, the total demise of physical shopping is not on the cards, and seminar organiser Laurence de Hemptinne, in her introduction, was able to point out that: “Westfield, the largest shopping centre in Europe, has just opened its doors in London…” Another expert, Patrick Tacq, head of retail at CBRE Brussels, speaking at his company’s press conference, said he believes that the trend in future shopping centres is likely to be for modestly-sized city centre developments (such as the proposed Wilhelm centre in La Louvière), rather than for ‘great big developments in the middle of the fields’.




Retailers optimistic
The survey carried out by CBRE, questioning 130 retailers about a number of topics, is a a very poignant indication of how the market feels about itself. The first statistic of interest was that where expansion plans are concerned, the ‘Home and Decoration’ sector takes the lead. It also transpires that large and medium cities are preferred, and that retailers are looking to enlarge their ‘typical floor size’, to offer more comfort to shoppers rather than to expand their product range. The enormous explosion in what might be described as ‘corner shop supermarkets’ (Carrefour Express and the like) which has been seen over recent times, has probably reached its end now.

New housing:
the numbers still don't add up

For some time, Brussels has recognised that the expected considerable growth in its population over the coming years, will necessitate a substantial building programme for new housing. The anticipated demographic growth (170,000 persons over the next ten years), is partially due to the expansion of the European Union and the people this attracts to its capital. The required quantity of new housing has been calculated to be in the region of 7,000 new units (apartments) per year. However, a survey recently published by the Brussels Region in its first Observatory report, indicates that only 4,100 new residential units have actually been built per year between 2003 and 2008.

The Metropolitan Era for Brussels
'It is in the interests of Kris, Charles and myself....' these were the words of Rudy Demotte , President of the Wallonia Region, sitting alongside his counterparts Kris Peeters (Flanders) and Charles Picqué (Brussels) at the conference on ‘The Metropolitan Era’, and debatting on how this may shape the future of Brussels. It is in the interest of all three Regions to see Brussels develop into a major international and economic centre. If the Brussels Metropolitan Area grows to what was described by some participants as ‘its natural size’, this will impact on what is built where. In a future spirit of collaboration between the Regions, rather than competition, the fiscal regimes would (presumably) be harmonised.

Hotel sector evolving
Over the past year or so, the ‘residential’ category of real estate has come to represent a far more mainstream segment of investors’ portfolios than before. This is increasingly true in the case of properties such as old people’s homes and other service functions. Alongside this fact is the increasing attraction of Brussels as a tourist destination, and the emphasis placed on the importance of this by all three Regional Minister-Presidents during their recent debate in Brussels. One category of real estate holdings clearly spans these two sectors of activities – hotels. The relatively recent takeover of the former ‘Hilton’ is an example of investor interest in this category.


Sustainability and real estate strategies:
the change is coming

The evolving situation in the domain of ‘green buildings’ and the various certification labels is not just an academic exercise. If it is to have any genuine benefit for the planet in terms of emissions of greenhouse gases, and any consequential benefit for building users in terms of reduced energy bills, it will inevitably impact upon real estate strategies. So what is the current thinking in this area? The Brussels Region has set some ambitious targets for itself. It is one of 1,600 cities which have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% between now and 2025. The Region has therefore undertaken to drastically improve the energy efficiency of buildings through promoting sustainable techniques both for new constructions and for renovations.
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Occupier Real Estate strategy:
Stay or move – a key decision

In the past, when a company or other organisation decided to move offices, it was generally for a very concrete reason, such as the existing building having become too old or too small… Now, however, there is much more to this decision, and not only cost. The top three criteria when the ‘stay or move’ question is first asked, are cost and location first and second, but with the environmental factor now clearly on the podium too. This is not just a matter of projecting the right image, but really does ensure that a company can meet its own environmental objectives.
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VK wins prestigious award

It is not only at Mipim that Belgian architects pick up international awards. At the World Architecture Festival in Barcelona, Roeselaere-based architectural bureau VK has just won a prestigious prize: Future Project of the Year – Healthcare’. The project in question is the Binh Chanh Pediatric hospital in Vietnam, for which VK is lead architect. VK is no stranger to hospital architecture, having been responsible for the extension to the O.L.V. hospital somewhat closer to home – at Aalst in Flanders.

 Focus on shopping centres development projects

Uplace – emphasis on lifestyle >>

Boch continues the Wilhelm tradition >>

Just Under the Sky ' part of Brussels Canalside's redevelopment >>

'Neo on the move again...? >>

Rive Gauche a step closer
One of the longest running shopping centre sagas in Belgium has moved a step nearer to being resolved. The ‘Rive Gauche’ project in the centre of Charleroi is designed to provide the city with new shopping facilities and to contribute to the rehabilitation of the ‘lower town’ area. But it has been embroiled in political and administrative wranglings for years, until a new development of this week. For the authorities have granted its planning permit, and are now turning their attention to the environmental permit. This is scheduled to follow very quickly, which could lead to initial works (demolishing existing buildings and cleansing the ground) starting within the next few months

SDRB and Region inaugurate Bervoets
The Bervoets project has just been inaugurated by Brussels Environment Minister Evelyne Huytebroeck and SDRB president Denis Grimberghs. Bervoets represents an entire new district for the commune of Forest and for Brussels. No less than 28,000 m² of very low-rise housing has been built – all of it now sold (principally to families of moderate incomes) and most of it already occupied. In total, this means 239 residential units spread across a number of buildings along with some workshops, retail units and parking spaces.

Antwerp Office market somewhat subdued
In its last Antwerp Office market research report, Jones Lang LaSalle shows that while activity in the Antwerp market was somewhat down during the first half of 2011 compared to the same period in 2010, the story is not totally negative, with some possible large transactions believed to be in the pipeline. Take-up amounted to 37,500 m², some 37% down on 2010, but 35% up on 2009. The five year average for the first half of the year stands at 49,370 m², meaning that 2011 was 24% below this.

Galeries de la Toison d'Or up for sale
The ‘Galerie de la Toison d’Or is to be sold by ING Real Estate Development and the Gillion family. The owners have mandated CB Richard Ellis with the task of finding a new owner. Following extensive renovation in 2009, the Gallery reopened for business some eighteen months ago. The retail space amounts to just over 12,000 m², with a further 2,200 m² of storage space. There are currently forty tenants providing an annual rental income of 3.5 million Euros. The largest tenants are the Fnac (3,645 m²) followed by AS Adventure and Desigual. Other well known tenants include Tommy Hilfiger and Maxi Toys.

New JLL head in Luxembourg confident
A few weeks ago, Romain Muller took over the top position at Jones Lang LaSalle Luxembourg. He has taken the opportunity to give his views on a market in which he has been working for many years, and he is clearly optimistic. He confirms that this has been a very good year up to now, with the occupier confidence barometer demonstrating a new level of optimism in the market. This is in particular witnessed by a number of transactions which have been concluded in the domain of pre-lettings, and in seeing order books filled up.

Inauguration of Bara-De Lijn meets Region's objectives
Located in the Brussels Midi district, Bara-De Lijn represents a redevelopment of a former tram depot. Speaking at the inauguration of the 147 apartments which have been built on the site, SDRB president Denis Grimberghs evoked a district which had grown up very quickly around the South Station, but which had also fallen into disrepair as the constructed fabric was badly maintained. One of the consequences of this was that the previous occupants of the site – public transport operator De Lijn – vacated a surface area amounting to 172,000 m².

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