La Sucrerie, the imposing and expensive multipurpose hall in Wavre, is finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel after a long period of darkness brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
The venue has recently been able to relaunch its activities after several long periods of closure due to the health crisis, during which the site was used as a vaccination centre. Now it seems the imposing building can turn the page and start again.
"The inauguration of La Sucrerie was a big success in November 2019," recalls director Patrick de Longrée. "But soon after, we were cut off from our momentum because of the lockdowns. We had to close, postpone shows, cancel events, and put our small team on temporary unemployment.” It was the beginning of a worrying time that shook the project, plunging it into the red during 2021.
"2021? It was a black year!" says Anne Masson, councillor and President of the Board of Directors of the RCA, the Régie communale autonome de Wavre, which is the management body of La Sucrerie.
"We couldn't have expected worse. This Covid crisis and its repercussions have weighed heavily on municipal finances. People criticised us when we went so big with this project and even more so during the dark times but despite everything, we are still committed, and I am confident we will continue to grow, and everything will be fine. You have to be optimistic. We do not regret this ambitious project. In particular, it will revitalise Wavre culturally, but also economically. The situation is clearly improving since the site now hosts a show or event, on average, every other day."
After an unprecedented collaboration with the "Anima" Festival last March, the success of the "Exploration du Monde" event, and a series of new shows (Virginie Hocq, Ligue d'impro, Girls in Hawaii), optimism is back among the managers and staff of the versatile and modular hall.
"For this year, we will arrive at almost 100 cultural activities and 35 events," says Patrick de Longrée. The site is expected to be occupied every other day. The cultural component (concerts, theatre, dance, musicals, comedy, ballets, films, conferences) represents about 40% of the venue’s revenue. The balance comes mainly from economic and commercial events (forums, business congresses, political congresses, gala evenings, small conventions). As a reminder, the hall is also used by the City of Wavre and a series of local associations.
The return to activities this summer has helped La Sucrerie build up a picture of its audience so far this year. "A large majority of spectators come from Wavre and the surrounding area," comments Patrick de Longrée.
“Basically, for shows and cultural activities, 50% come from Wavre, the remaining 50% from the rest of the province of Walloon Brabant. We also note the arrival of a Brussels audience for some shows. Among the bookings for economic, commercial, political or corporate events, we have welcomed companies such as Belfius, Axa, IBA, Défi, Odoo, RTBF and Feprabel.”
"We are confident for the future,” adds Patrick de Longrée. “The proof is that many of the operators are already coming back to us, for example to organise a concert. Our room is modern, well equipped and above all very modular. But what is certain is that we must remain cautious. The financial situation demands it. However, we want to remain positive and hope to attract a lot of spectators by the end of the year and in 2023 when we have some very prominent shows lined up."
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Audience figures by the end of 2022 are forecasted at around 45,000 visitors.
Stéphane Crusnière, Director General of the RCA, also shares Patrick de Longrée’s mixture of caution and optimism. "The building was expensive, the health crisis then had negative consequences on it, but so far year, the figures are good,” he says.
“Of course, we must remain vigilant. Some would like to see a change in the structural model for obtaining subsidies, but this is a political choice. And such a change will not solve everything. The opposition misinterprets the balance sheet data. The situation is not rosy, but it is not alarming either."
Far from sharing the optimism of the majority and the management of the multipurpose hall, the opposition party in Wavre, Ecolo, remains worried about the future of the site and its consequences on municipal finances.
"This excessive project will still cost the people of Wavre dearly for years," insists municipal councillor Bastian Petter.
"In the multi-year plan, it is planned, apart from the crises, that La Sucrerie will continue to cost between 1 and 1.2 million euros per year to the City of Wavre. I hope that the financial situation will improve, to avoid a long-term communal investment in this huge building. The City should have thought in terms of smaller, multiple and diversified projects."