Brussels Region follows City by shelving Neo 2 project at Heysel
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    Brussels Region follows City by shelving Neo 2 project at Heysel

    Paleis 5 at Heysel, currently the main exhibition space, and a possible future conference centre © Filharmoniker/Wikimedia

    The Brussels regional government has decided to follow the example of Brussels-City commune and shelve the project to build a conference centre and four-star hotel on the site at Heysel known as Neo 2.

    The site was in some ways to be the pinch-pin of the Heysel development, which would also include housing and shops. Neo 2 would include a conference centre and a four-star hotel, in a bid to attract the growing demand for business tourism. Brussels is the biggest conference city in Europe, and after Singapore the second-biggest in the world.

    The original cost price for the project was €335 million, described by some experts as a gross underestimate.

    Brussels City last year brought in a consultancy, the German JWC. They concluded that a conference centre on the site was certainly a good idea, but that the Heysel palaces adjoining the Neo 2 site – the buildings where events such as the Auto Salon take place – could serve the purpose adequately if renovated. The palaces are already the property of Brussels-City, via its agency Brussels expo, which is chaired by Brussels mayor Philippe Close.

    There was of course a price on that, too: the renovation of the facade of Palais 5 alone would cost an estimated €40 million. With that job eating into the budget to that extent, Brussels-City decided to shelve the project. Brussels region has now followed suit.

    The Neo 2 project was budgeted at €335 million, with half coming from the private sector for the management of the shops and 590 homes planned for the other part of the Heysel, and half from the Brussels region. With both public authorities now having shelved the plans, the question of financing remains: if Neo 2 is no more, what sort of quid pro quo could or should the city demand from its private investors?

    Alan Hope
    The Brussels Times