Alexandre Castillon Project Manager and Management Member – Studies & Developments Division
First of all, a few words about the project itself: located in the heart of the City of Sion, the Cour de Gare project consists of developing a sector of approximately 65,000 m2, currently undeveloped, in the station area. The perimeter concerned includes the plots of land of the former Cave Bonvin, the private car parks and the SBB-Cargo hall. A multifunctional urban development, this project will enhance a little-used space and allow the emergence of a new district, close to other sized developments, such as the new EPFL campus. A great opportunity that the COMPTOIR IMMOBILIER decided to seize! In fact, the story begins in 1990, when the COMPTOIR IMMOBILIER represented the interests of the owners of one of the main plots along the Avenue de Tourbillon. A Neighbourhood Plan had been developed and authorisations obtained for this restricted area. But the economic crisis had slowed down the project and therefore postponed its development. 10 years later, the file was put back under study and discussions were initiated with the SBB, who owned one of the adjacent plots, to carry out a more important project. The duo soon became a trio, when the City of Sion acquired the so-called “Bonvin” plot: it thus joined the group of owners as a full partner in the process of creating this new district, in addition to its role as planning and administrative authority. On the strength of its experience in similar large-scale projects, such as the Communaux d’Ambilly in Geneva, COMPTOIR IMMOBILIER quickly established itself, as early as 2009, as the pilot and coordinator.
First and foremost the understanding of the issues, our experience in managing such projects and the resources we have at our disposal. Indeed, the Cour de Gare project goes far beyond a simple real estate project: it represents a central issue for the development of the city of Sion. In addition, it is a complex project, with multiple uses in the heart of the city: we are talking about a mixed neighbourhood, offering the people of Sion a real neighbourhood life, with housing, shops, offices and a hotel, all in a very urban environment and close to the railway. Needless to say, this represents multiple challenges to be met, which few actors are able to apprehend as a whole. Not to mention the knowledge of the local fabric, which we can boast of, with Valais branches in Sion and Sierre. Added to this are the resources needed to carry out such a project, the “strike force” in other words. Today, all the departments of COMPTOIR IMMOBILIER are involved: the commercial department has been commissioned by the three owners to carry out a market study on the definition of the Cour de Gare programme and on rental values. We can also draw on our solid experience in shopping centre management to define the programme mix for the future shopping centre. Finally, the management department gives its opinion on the types of apartments and their sizing. Without forgetting our communication & marketing departments which set up the communication strategy, the events and the different media.
We constantly advocate rigor and quality in our work for our constituents. We favour exchanges and are concerned with achieving the objectives defined by the owners. This is extremely important in a project such as Cour de Gare, where such a complex program has to coexist with so many uses.
We have been working for a number of years to create links with our various partners and to develop relationships of trust. Because we are convinced that without such links, a project of this scale has no chance of coming into being. In practice, this translates into great transparency and respect for the objectives defined in the development of the City, particularly in terms of the support given to the urban and architectural integration process of the project. We respect both technical and political aspects. Our role is to raise the right questions while providing constructive solutions, and to draw the attention of project owners when we believe there is a potential risk. Our long experience and the multi-disciplinary nature of our own management team in developing projects of this scale fosters this confidence.
There are three major issues. An urbanistic issue first of all since it is a question of making the city of Sion evolve towards the 21st century, by opening its perimeter. As you can imagine, this raises certain apprehensions among some of the population, who fear for the preservation of life and commercial activity in its historic centre: our role is above all to answer questions, to reassure and to get the population to support this renewal. It is also an environmental issue insofar as Cour de Gare is part of the City of Sion’s Energy Master Plan, which has ambitious objectives. We are determined to reach the level of a Minergie P type standard, even if this represents a real challenge for a site of such magnitude (building envelope, double flow air treatment, geothermal probe, thermal solar panel, eventually a connection to a remote pipe). Finally a social issue, which consists of cohabiting shops and administrative areas, housing and activities such as leisure, tourism and entertainment.
Let’s talk about accessibility because this is one of the central points of this project: housing, administrative areas and commercial activity will benefit from tremendous accessibility. In fact, the entire public transport network starts or ends at Sion station. This new district, with its infrastructures, should make it possible to create a new way of living in Valais. Thus, the inhabitants of Châteauneuf, Sierre or Martigny will be able to go to work or to shop without using their car. Soft mobility is also in the spotlight to initiate and reinforce the idea of living the city differently.
First and foremost by relying on our own experience and surrounding ourselves with the right providers and agents to quickly provide solutions when a difficulty arises. The market, the economy and the laws have indeed evolved over time and we need to be able to constantly review our approach and update our studies if necessary. Without forget the communication dimension, which is crucial in managing procedures: knowing how to listen to our interlocutors and thus defuse possible opposition.
This is a wonderful project and I am very optimistic about the future, despite the natural obstacles we face on a daily basis. The city of Sion is today undergoing profound changes and for many years the population of Sion has been waiting for a revaluation of this district. A district that will also be the junction between two “pieces of city” on both sides of the railway. Because let’s remember that the southern part will host schools (EPFL, HES) and that a footbridge is planned over the SBB tracks at the same time as the development of the Cour de Gare project, to connect the two entities. It is up to us to take up the challenge by working in a very methodical way and by taking care to scrupulously respect the expectations of the interlocutors and owners. A great deal of support and communication with the public authorities, the canton and neighbouring property owners is necessary to bring the project to a successful conclusion in its development and realisation phases in order to obtain the greatest possible support. This is how the community will love this project and look forward to seeing it come to life.