First opened in 2016 as part of the larger regeneration project for the former Brussels Docks area, the shopping centre Docks Bruxsel aims to attract 7 million visitors by the end of the year, according to Belgian newspaper Le Soir.
The modern shopping complex originally faced problems when it opened due to a lack of transport connections and the economic failure of the White Cinema complex.
But after a few years of teething problems, the shopping centre has seen a resurgence in popularity. Last year, it welcomed a record 5.7 million shoppers, a 54% increase on 2020 and exceeding pre-pandemic figures.
In July alone, more than 700,000 people visited the Docks, the highest attendance since its inauguration. This increase can be explained by the opening of the new Lego Discovery Centre, a mini-amusement park occupying more than 3 kilometres squared on the site.
In 2018, the shopping complex was purchased by a Canadian investment firm Aimco and British fund Portus Retail. The shopping centre now features more than 100 retail locations, as well as restaurants and leisure facilities.
“Docks Bruxsel is more than a shopping centre. It is also a real tourist destination, a lively place where leisure activities now occupy 20% of the property,” explains Natahlie Eloy, leasing manager at Docks Bruxsel.
Bucking the trend
This year, the docks hope to celebrate its best year on record. 4 million shoppers have already passed through the complex’s doors, and the company expects another 3 million to do the same before the end of the year.
“This is a real success because this figure goes against the general trend,” Eloy noted. Indeed, shopping and retail centres in Belgium have been struggling in recent years. Visitors are falling and commercial outlets are being forced to think of new ways to attract customers.
According to the Belgian-Luxembourg Council for Retail and Shopping Centres (BLSC), the average number of visitors to shopping centres fell 11% in the first quarter of 2021, while at the Docks, it increased by 31%.
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Currently, 79% of visitors to the shopping centre come from Brussels, 18% from Flanders, and just 2$ from Wallonia. With the opening of the new lego centre, Docks Bruxsel hopes to attract an international tourist base, especially from northern France, the Netherlands, and Germany.
While some brands have left the docks shopping centre, such as travel agent TUi and French retailer Camaïeu (which went bankrupt in July), others are expected to take its place. An Asia bubble tea company, Gong Cha, moved into the complex sometime in July.
According to the Docks Bruxsel management, the shopping centre plans to expand its services. It recently installed a series of Tesla superchargers and will soon add a carwash service, nail salon, hairdresser, and barber. The docks will also soon be linked to Schaerbeek station via a pedestrian tunnel, reducing the walk to just 400 metres.