From vacancy to revival – Retail in Belgium may be feeling the pinch, but it’s not all bad. Huidevettersstraat in Antwerp has proven just that, by making a full recovery in just a few years. And it may well be just the beginning.
IToday on Huidevettersstraat in Antwerp, only two buildings are still available to let. At a time when pressure on the retail market is all over the news, this might come as a surprise. What’s more, Antwerp is no stranger to this pressure: in 2016 there were 814 vacant properties throughout the city centre, 25 of which were located specifically in the Wilde Zee-Huidevettersstraat shopping area.
But the tide has turned. Many national and international retailers have since chosen to open a branch on Huidevettersstraat. You can now shop at Iro, Arket, Liu Jo, Aux Merveilleux de Fred and the refurbished concept store of Un Jour Ailleurs. Soon COS and Ted Baker will be joining the fun too.
Guy Rietens, Partner Retail Agency at Cushman & Wakefield Belgium, is delighted: “We are very proud to have been – and to still be – a part of this revival. Over the last two years, Cushman & Wakefield has played an active role in the area. We made a few big new lease transactions and were also able to renew other lease agreements.”
What caused this turnaround? First of all, Huidevettersstraat is extremely well situated. It is both a very accessible and highly visible street, hard to miss for anyone coming into the city or on their way in and out of the inner city, whether on foot, cycling or by car. Huidevettersstraat is also quick to get to and close to the heart of town.
The street also connects various surrounding shopping streets focused on different target audiences, from luxury to mass-market. Huidevettersstraat is therefore the ideal location for the “medium-high” segment, attracting audiences from all the surrounding shopping areas.
Of course, the location has not changed much over the last few years – there is more to it.
Paradoxically, the vacancies themselves were the solution to their own problem. Owners and investors took advantage of the vacancies to invest in their properties. To meet new, modern tenant standards, they optimized and modernized the buildings, reviewed the rents, and so on. They also worked to meet changing consumer needs. Nowadays, customers are after more than just a purchase: they want a shopping experience. Renovations and refurbishments can help retailers respond to this need.
As for tenants, the vacancies gave them the luxury of choice. When supply by far exceeds demand, tenants have plenty to choose from and can afford to impose certain quality requirements.
Historically speaking, Huidevettersstraat already boasted a sound real estate offer, with majestic façades and attractive surface areas. Add a few significant investments, and the door to revival was wide open. Several renowned retailers soon found their way back, and many have followed in their footsteps. As Guy Rietens explains: “The arrival of Arket in particular was a pivotal moment for Huidevettersstraat. It really triggered a snowball effect”.
Fammeke Horions, Associate Capital Markets Retail at Cushman & Wakefield Belgium, looks ahead: “We expect that the transformation of Huidevettersstraat will spread to surrounding streets. Streets like Schuttershofstraat and Groendalstraat are still struggling, vacancies continue to be a real problem there. Still, we are confident that they too will revive in the long run”.
What’s more, the city has announced that it will be investing in accessibility in various locations, including Schuttershofstraat. This will increase foot traffic, making the streets attractive for retailers.
Several new hotel projects are in the pipeline as well – about eight in the historic centre of Antwerp alone, and apartment buildings are under development. Trendy food concepts are also on the rise, looking for a place to establish themselves. In an ideal scenario, Huidevettersstraat (and the streets that will soon follow) will showcase that it need not be all doom and gloom for the retail market. Once investors/owners upgrade their properties, rents become realistic again, and changing consumer needs are taken into account, retailers will return to a large number of locations in areas currently dominated by vacancies. As Fammeke Horions points out: “The future may well look a lot brighter than newspaper reports would suggest”.
Associate Capital Markets Retail
Partner Retail Agency
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