Flagship urban regeneration project for Brussels city still a long way from fruition.
With the mixed-use NEO urban plan the City of Brussels wishes to exploit the huge potential of the Heyzel plateau for new housing, economic and tourism opportunities. The tourist appeal of the world famous Atomium and the business tourism linked to Brussels biggest exhibition centre and the Trade Mart helps underpin this development opportunity. Those attracts already over 1.5 million people annually. On an estimated surface of 18 hectares out of the 68 hectares making up the Heyzel Plateau, this inspiring mixed-use project development plan includes the building of an international-scale convention centre, a concert hall, a shopping centre, a hotel, housings and leisure facilities … all this with exemplary public transportation. On-road parking is set to be eliminated, and the space freed up for broad cycle-ways and pedestrian boulevards.
The concept and philosophy of Neo are well defined. The presented urban regeneration plans drawn up by KCAP, chief town planner, shows the outlook of the future Heyzel plateau, developing the existing urban fabric while taking into account the interest of the neighbouring residents and having as priority that right activities need to be fitted into the right place depending on their specific shapes and characteristics. The City of Brussels is talking of Neo being a flagship project combining sustainable economic development, tourism development, job creation, international pull and the well-being of the inhabitants. The project is set a new benchmark in urban redevelopment towards smart cities.
Neo is a project which, it is fair to say, has been something of a thorn in the side of the Brussels government for quite a long time for reasons which include neighbouring developments and political (regional) considerations. Last year, at the end of April , this mega-project took a huge leap forwards: the consortium which is to develop the first phase of the complex has been selected; three candidates were originally in the running, and one dropped out during the last year Mipim exhibition. So then there were two, and now there is one confirmed: Unibail-Rodamco / CFE / Besix with their project named ‘Europea’. The official website scontinues to outline the wide-ranging ambition for Neo, but this has not yet led to anything particularly visible on the site…
Phase 1 (Europea) is scheduled to be finished in 2021. The major elements of phase 2 have been announced as the 5,000 seat convention centre and a 250-room high class hotel. Phase 3 will follow with more housing, another hotel and public facilities. It is still expected that the whole of Neo will be completed by 2023 or 2024 at the earliest.
The ambition of the Heysel site shows up with Europea
A major international team has been gathered for the Europea project: the French Master Architect Jean-Paul Viguier will coordinate all conception teams and work closely with the Brussels architecture bureau Art & Build. The architect Conran will be bringing its expertise in the Art of living into to the lifestyle spaces, more precisely in the shopping mall. The architectural intention for Europea consists of creating a residential park and public spaces on more than 3 hectares, positioned above all the retail and leisure activities, offering a new district with an exceptional appearance. There will be 590 residential units, along with other facilities required by a new residential district of this size (crèches, retirement home…).
Europea will see the construction of a large shopping centre of some 81,000 m. The Mall of Europe is set to include 200 retail units and 30 restaurants. The Spirouland, an indoor amusement park dedicated to the universe of Spirou will open as an exclusive in the new shopping mall enriching the tourism and leisure experience. A new Kinepolis multiplex cinema will be built with 21 projection rooms and 4,000 seats. For a good urban integration, the Market square will provide a connection between the existing public routes and the new public, commercial and leisure spaces. The Atomium Esplanade will be a spectacular space where waterfalls complement large lawns, offering a new perspective on the Atomium and the Heysel plateau. Inspired by the concept of the existing Mini-Europe park, the “Euroville” outdoor park is part of Europa Project. It will be re-developed at the foot of the Atomium.
In 2006, the commercial development scheme commissioned by Regional Minister-President Charles Picqué recommended the building of one or more shopping malls. It was mentioned that Brussels would need 233,000 m2 of extra commercial space to reach the average for major Belgian cities. Today three retail development projects are competing to fill this gap and size this real estate development opportunity : Neo, Uplace located on the opposite side of the ring in Machelen and the ‘Dockx Bruxsel’ retail & leisure center located alongside the canal to the north west of Brussels center, near the Van Praet bridge. From a mobility point of view, the Heyzel plateau would be an ideal site for the new ‘Mall of Europe’ being easily accessible to the site by car and public transport which is already extremely good, with metro and tram stations in operation.
Neo - Phase 2
With the building of a 3,500 seats new international-scale congress center above the existing Heyzel metro station, the Neo project intends to boost the business tourism which is already a major economic activity in the Brussels region. The proximity of Brussels main exhibition centre and the development nearby of shopping and recreational facilities would be highly complementary. To improve hospitality for visitors to the new congress centre but also to the existing Brussels Expo and the Trade Mart an extra 250 hotel rooms would be needed and integrated in the development programme.
More appeal for the Heyzel plateau
Regarding leisure facilities, to give the Heyzel plateau even more appeal, the building of a new concert hall with a capacity of 15,000 seats is considered. This new infrastructure would enable Brussels to host major cultural and sporting events which the city cannot accommodate at present. The further adding of a major museum beside the Congress center such as the ‘Museum of Modern Art’ would add a cultural dimension to the area. The development of green space and emphasises of the existing park is also essential to the perfect harmony of the Neo project.
A new national football stadium on parking C…?
This element of the rehabilitation of the Heysel plateau is perhaps the most controversial. The planned new football stadium with a capacity of 60,000 seats is required for the European Championships in 2020 – if Belgium wishes to be a host. The site, which is already partly cleared, sits in the commune of Grimbergen within the Flemish region, and various obstacles are preventing any more significant progress at the moment.