Monofunctional and soulless, the Espace Nord business district, in Brussels, is emptying. Its vacancy rate could approach 15% over the next few years. What changes are around the corner?
Abandoned by a series of major occupants, Brussels’ “little Manhattan” is emptying. A number of occupants will leave their buildings over the next few months. These include BNP Paribas Fortis (Boréal and Manhattan), the federal ministries (WTC II), the Flemish Government (North Building end of 2017, Phoenix building end of 2017, Ellipse Building end of 2023) and the potential rationalisation of the Proximus premises. All of which entails an estimated vacancy rate approaching 15, or even 20%.
But by all accounts, the haemorrhage will be far from fatal. Under reconditioning, the district is getting ready for a pivotal year with a series of projects on the starting line. First of all, the scheduled arrival of Allianz in 2019 to the Möbius tower (26,600 m²), designed by the Assar firm. These two 98-metre towers will replace the old TBR tower. They will be linked by a retail area, with a car park in the basement. Next, the future Quatuor Building which, by 2021, will replace the current Noord Building dating from the late ’80s. Constituted by four autonomous towers, works will start on the Quatuor in early 2018, inflating the floor area in the meantime from 36,800 to 60,000 m². Finally, other projects will follow, like the WTC IV (53,500 m²) by Befimmo and also the reconditioning of the Manhattan by Victory Advisors.
A new identity
“Originally, 60 tower buildings were going to be erected in this district, rising 13 metres above the motorway network that was going to be extended into the city, the Brussels Master Architect Kristiaan Borret explains. Manhattan, is a purely functional district, created for work and to facilitate mobility. But certainly not to favour the human factor. There is an enormous amount of work to be done, a functional mix is required.”
This view is shared by several of the big building owners (AG Real Estate, Allianz, Axa, Befimmo, Immobel and Triuva). They have just set up a non-profit, Up 4 North, which should start work on redesigning this flagship district of Brussels. Objective: to upgrade it with a new urban vision and a sufficiently realistic route map to hand over to the politicians. Although Espace Nord isn’t one of the 10 priority districts defined as such by the Brussels government.