In Mons, it is good to live… especially for some. The city is the place where Foruminvest [see Foruminvest — City Mall] took off in Belgium. In 2003, the company inaugurated « Les Grands Prés », a 37,000 square meter mega shopping center with 2,800 parking spaces, and at the same time the slogan of City Mall: « the winning city ».
We don’t know if Mons won, but Foruminvest would have pocketed 10,000,000 euros (La DH, February 5, 2004) by immediately selling « les Grands Prés » to a German real estate speculation group, the « Union Investment Real Estate GmbH » (ex-DIFA)(1).
Let’s start again. Mons is the city of Elio Di Rupo and Patrick Huon. Mr. Di Rupo is the « titular mayor » of the city and today Prime Minister of Belgium. Extraordinarily, he will be a candidate for mayor in the municipal elections of October 2012.
Mr. Huon, an insurance broker before « Les Grands Prés », was suddenly asked to find a developer for the future shopping center. To do this, he links up with Foruminvest and concludes an agreement with Michel Riaskoff [voir encadré]. In order to convince the city, its elected officials, its shopkeepers and its inhabitants (but not too many) to open « Les Grands Prés », Foruminvest develops a technique that it will reproduce in Kortrijk and now in Verviers: coupling the megacenter project with the investment of part of the funds in the renovation of the city.
In order to do this, Mons has an Autonomous Municipal Authority (RCA) « MONS CAPITALE », which allows the municipality to act as a company and to recover the VAT, and from which branches will grow. An opaque structure, it is not always clear what is going on in an RCA, except that there is a lot of money flowing in. In 2003, MONS CAPITALE created the limited company MONS.EXPO SA which manages the hall of the same name. Among its directors: Mr. Elio Di Rupo, mayor and Mr. Gilles Mahieu, alderman considered as the successor of the first. The same year, MONS RENOVATION SA, MONS APPUI SA and MONS REVITALISATION SA were created. Each time, the mayor and the alderman are appointed directors, as well as Patrick Huon via his consultancy company Conseil Management SA. Between them, these three branches of the RCA have a combined capital of 9657,000 euros, which will be used to launch various renovation, support and revitalization actions in the city, at the same time as the mega shopping center is opened. Other SAs will be created later on.
The main player in the megamall thus becomes, through its consulting company, a stakeholder in the decisions that will affect the city as a whole. It will be said that these limited companies allow the authorities to keep an eye on private money. Another reading is perhaps more realistic: a private actor, who has not been elected, whose function is motivated by financial profit, acts in three structures derived from the municipality of Montpellier. It manages « Les Grands Prés » and also has a hand in the commercial revitalization of Mons. Wouldn’t this pose a problem of democratic legitimacy and sound management?
In Mons, extraordinary things happen, like in a movie.
The penultimate public episode was on May 31, 2012. The Walloon government then granted a permit to build a new railway and bus station (called « multimodal ») and to demolish the old one. Protests and appeals did not prevent the single permit from being issued under conditions that would make the most pallid of environmentalists pale. The permit went through the « DAR » (Decree of Regional Authorization) procedure, which gives legal force to a permit deemed strategic and protects it from possible citizen appeals. Mr. Henry, the Green Minister in charge of land use planning, whose party had in his time ardently fought against this very complicated procedure whose legality remains doubtful, has swallowed the snake or rather the boa constrictor.
The selection procedure for the project manager was also the subject of much criticism and suspicion of irregularities. Launched in 2006, the specifications provided for the preservation of the current station for which a request for historical classification had been introduced after pressure from more than 1500 citizens. Finally, the permit provides for the destruction of the site. In the meantime, the project budget had increased from 37 million to 155 million euros, and Santiago Calatrava(2) had been selected.
But by the way, the essential question: what will this new steel station be used for, completed with a geothermal device that is supposed to make it sustainable-compatible? There is already a station, and trains stop there. There are fewer of them than there used to be, since expensive stations are being built and a choice has to be made between stations and trains.
So there was reason to wonder, until June 1, 2012, when the official website www.wallonie.be soberly stated: « The construction of the gateway station will provide a link between the historic heart of Mons and the Grands Prés commercial site. » Let us add: in a purely « aesthetic » and Calatravesque architectural gesture. For 155 million euros, it is in particular a question of making the link between « Les Grands Prés » (where there are the stores of Mr. Huon) and the heart of the city (where there are the inhabitants of Mr. Di Rupo). The new station is planned for 2015.
Pure coincidence of the calendar, on June 21, 2012, three weeks after this official announcement, another one falls: « the Great Meadows » will be added 7000 m² of Ikea. Scheduled opening: 2015. Things are well done.
It must be said that 2015 will also be the year when Mons will be the European Capital of Culture. Mr. Di Rupo had fought tooth and nail to obtain this European capitalism.
And then, IKEA, a Swedish transnational known for selling billions of pieces of furniture, whose lifespan is inversely proportional to the value of its stock listed on the stock market, appears. The actors are the same, plus Ikea. There is talk of 650 new jobs, 1,500 additional parking spaces, two million additional visitors and new road infrastructure. City Mall emphasizes the extent to which the city of Mons has helped by negotiating with IKEA, launching the studies, » facilitating the urban planning procedures « , guaranteeing the implementation of the project, and conducting a mobility study. Don’t throw any more away.
Also on the agenda: « a significant makeover of the gallery is planned in order to remain in the top of the Shoppings ». Yes. You can’t stop progress, nor can you stop the money pump (delete as appropriate).
- Comprenant 17820 m² d’espace de vente, la galerie est louée à 71 enseignes, incluant des chaînes comme H&M, Zara, Esprit et Mango. Un supermarché Carrefour de 18400 m² est situé dans le centre commercial, mais il ne fait pas partie du holding Union Investment. Avec sa position bien connectée à Mons sur l’autoroute E‑19 entre Bruxelles et Paris et sa forte zone de captage, le centre commercial remplit à la perfection les critères d’investissement d’Union Investment , Communiqué du 22 juin 2012. Chaînes, autoroute, captage, investissement, voilà qui est dit.
- Grand starchitecte espagnol qui a déjà officié à Liège sous mayorat socialiste, à la gare des Guillemins où il a planté un mastodonte d’acier de 437 millions d’euros (L’Avenir, 14/09/2009) Sur ce sujet, lire aussi http://urbagora.be/interventions/cartes-blanches/liege-guillemins-elepha…