MAGAZINE French makeover for Dutch mall

Klépierre’s redevelopment of Hoog Catharijne shopping centre in the Netherlands is a centrepiece of the French company’s food and ‘retailtainment’ strategy. PropertyEU spoke to Klépierre's group head of leasing Louis Bonelli about the project.

Visitors and residents looking for a trendy place to eat in the Dutch city of Utrecht need no longer head for its historic centre for a canalside venue. In future, they can make their way to the City Square (‘Stadskamer’) in Hoog Catharijne, the shopping centre currently being redeveloped by French retail specialist Klépierre. There, diners can pick from a range of restaurants offering local and global cuisine as they overlook an ‘indoor canal’ with cruise boats passing underneath. ‘We dug a canal in Hoog Catharijne, so you can now have lunch or dinner next to a canal – but in a shopping centre!’ says Klépierre’s group head of leasing Louis Bonelli.

With brands such as ‘naturally fast food’ chain LEON, Lebanese canteen Comptoir Libanais and American-style burger concept Burger Federation, the Stadskamer is fast becoming a local dining hotspot, says Bonelli in an interview with PropertyEU. A light and airy building straddling an old waterway which is being restored, it forms the food and beverage (F&B) heart of the mall – the Netherlands’ busiest with over 26 million visitors annually.

Since the opening of the first phase of the City Square in April 2017, the food offering has been expanded with US burger chain Five Guys, Dunkin’ Donuts, Japanese-inspired cuisine Wagamama, a 500-seat Italian Vapiano restaurant and a Sea Food Bar. The second phase – with formats including pan-Asian cuisine Two Tigers and Bistrot Bakery – is due to open in early 2019. Once complete, the F&B and leisure component of Hoog Catharijne will equate to 15% of the mall’s total GLA of 78,000 m2.

No other shopping centre in the Netherlands has such a large food offer, claims Bonelli. ‘It is beyond what is usual in the Netherlands. We are deeply shaping the F&B offering
here and in the rest of Europe,’ he says. Klépierre’s Destination Food strategy, aimed at creating ‘unique’ food and leisure spaces at its malls, is based on a two-pronged approach.

Bonelli: ‘On the one hand, it’s about the mix of categories – fast food, casual or fine dining, healthy food… On the other, it’s about the operational side of the business.’ At Hoog Catharijne, Klépierre has hired airport F&B operator HMSHost International – which recently teamed up with Deliveroo on a pilot scheme at Schiphol Airport offering
departure gate deliveries for passengers – to run several restaurants in the City Square.

It is this kind of innovation in services that Klépierre is looking to introduce at its shopping centres. ‘We are fostering the F&B component in a way that wasn’t done before at Hoog Catharijne,’ says Bonelli. Klépierre acquired the mall in 2015 along with a handful of others through its takeover of Dutch property company Corio – already engaged at the time in revamping the asset. The introduction of bike parking facilities for food deliveries from restaurants in the mall is one such innovation currently being implemented.‘Home deliveries are huge for our restaurants,’ says Bonelli.

The Destination Food strategy is being rolled out across Klépierre’s malls, both in new schemes and at other redevelopments across Europe. The company relies on both inhouse
expertise – a team of five – and external consultants to develop and cultivate the offering. Bonelli: ‘We don’t have a fixed rule for the amount of space dedicated to F&B in our shopping centres. That would have to be tailor-made according to the typology of the centre, its location, and its leisure components – in the end it’s about the quality and diversity of the retail offering.’

At Klépierre’s Créteil Soleil shopping centre in the Paris suburb of Créteil which is undergoing redevelopment, 50% of the 11,000 m2 which is being added will be devoted to F&B and entertainment. Once completed in the second half of 2019, the overall share taken up by food and leisure will amount to more than 30% of the total 123,500 m2.

Bonelli stresses that the appeal and success of a shopping centre go well beyond its retail and F&B offering. It is also about developing ties with the local community. ‘It’s not only about shopping. We are taking our responsibility and fostering the best of local or national happenings, including cultural events,’ he says. In Hoog Catharijne’s case, that means working together with the nearby Tivoli concert hall (‘we are an extra stage for them’) and with the local council to help market Utrecht to tourists. Klépierre is in talks with local boat cruise companies to make the mall a stop along their route and also relays the Utrecht Film Festival initiatives.

Hoog Catharijne’s location next to the Netherlands’ busiest railway station, which recently underwent a €270 mln renovation enabling it to process 100 million travellers annually, gives it a ‘natural catchment’ in terms of visitors passing through it to the city centre. In future, the mall will also house two hotels, owned by Singapore investor First Sponsor Group, one of which will be operated under the Hampton by Hilton brand.

Bonelli says Klépierre’s shopping centres in Italy are leaders in the art of integrating food, leisure and culture. ‘Our centres in Naples, Turin and Venice have become national venues for cultural happenings such as pop concerts and TEDx events.’

At its Le Gru mall in Turin, the company recently opened GruCity, a 1,200 m2 covered ‘village for children’ giving 4- to 11-year-olds the opportunity to experience the world of adults in settings such as a beauty salon, fire brigade, TV studio and supermarket. Bonelli: ‘It is not just about shopping. It’s about much more than that. Malls are becoming “instagrammable” places.’


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