29 April 2019
EPARECA, a French government body for planning and redevelopment of local commercial and artisan spaces, works with communities to restructure retail sites in troubled neighbourhoods and get them back on the market. Halle Gourmande, on the site of the former Fives Cail factory in Lille, is an unusual project in many ways, as Mary Krier, innovation manager with EPARECA explains.

Marie Krier - CopieWhat is the Halle Gourmande project? 

This is a very special case. The City of Lille is creating an ecodistrict, currently under construction, on the site of a partly preserved old factory, which will include the Halle Gourmande, a gastronomic space of 2000 m². The plan provides for a food court, a central kitchen and a business incubator, with the last two devoted to developing a social and solidarity-based economy around gastronomy. The project is quite promising in terms of economic, social and urban vitality. And it has received funding from the European Union. The concept has already been launched in the transition phase, and the success of the first events held there, even in the midst of construction, is encouraging.

Why did the City of Lille turn to EPARECA?

The aim of the overall project is to create an autonomous ecosystem, with a business model requiring that the food court generate earnings to help finance the social and solidarity-based activities. However, operators approached by the city to run the food court—there was a call for expressions of interest—voiced reservations about this point, and no contracts have been signed.

EPARECA's statutory mission is to step in where the economic and urban environment appear unattractive to private investors—usually in deprived neighbourhoods— and to act as contracting authority and landlord, restructure failing retail sites and then return them to the private market by transferring ownership and management.

The Fives Cail Halle Gourmande project is unusual for its size, its context, its planning and its construction, and it requires the skills we offer, which is why we’re involved.

What is your specific mission?

For now, we are auditing the project's business model. We called on CBRE to assess the potential market for the food court and determine viable operating conditions. CBRE's perfect knowledge of private-sector constraints is a major asset in clarifying the conditions required to ensure the project’s success. This perspective is exactly what we need. The City of Lille has mobilized people in the social and solidary-based economy and created excitement about the project, but the overall sustaining ecosystem remains to be confirmed.

To date, a solution appears possible, so long as we avoid errors in the scale of the offering and its layout. Will EPARECA invest in Halle Gourmande to enable the project to reach critical mass while waiting for the neighbourhood to ramp up and customers to flock in? This is what our board will soon decide. It's too early to say, but the matter is on the agenda.