Before a university, a park, a shopping centre and a complete living environment was built in Belval to the delight of its new residents, there was a vast wasteland and strong political will to revive the area. This is how the State of Luxembourg and the giant ArcelorMittal have joined forces to devise a planning and development company capable of achieving the impossible in a short time!
In January 2001, barely two months after the company was set up, there is excitement in the air. AGORA’s first employees settle in the deserted site of Belval. On the site, the plant and its installations have been partially demolished. Vegetation has covered part of the former industrial site.
Majestic and imperial in this sublime setting enhanced by winter, the old blast furnaces dominate the horizon. The stand-off between man and the steel giants is unsettling. For architects, urban planners, engineers and development specialists who are setting off on their journey with AGORA, this is a great day.
They know that they have a unique opportunity to devise a new living environment from an almost blank page. Belval is a pioneer project for Luxembourg. It is also a project on an international scale, with a unique and remarkable character. Such an opportunity does not often present itself in one’s career.
We must create a modern quarter, highlight the industrial heritage, make it shine out in a new urban setting. They have come to Belval with the passion and desire to build a solid long-term project around people.
They are the beating heart of a company with a unique profile, expert in the revitalisation of former steel sites, multicultural and multidisciplinary in its approach: AGORA brings together in a single structure all the resources and skills needed to create new urban quarters, from urban planning to regional marketing, infrastructure and property development. The result of a public-private partnership between the Luxembourg State and the steel group ArcelorMittal, AGORA is as concerned with the common good and the creation of public spaces as it is with meeting the expectations of private developers and supporting them.
Three years earlier…
If 2000 is the official year of AGORA’s birth, its gestation dates back further. The company gradually began to take shape at the end of the 90s, through a dialogue between ArcelorMittal, the State of Luxembourg, municipalities and trade unions. Its timetable is dictated by the economic situation, the steel group must take strategic decisions about its future.
Since the oil shocks of 1973 and 1979 the European steel industry has been in a state of perpetual restructuring. Luxembourg has not been not spared, and the Arbed Group (now ArcelorMittal) has to make choices. The announcement was made in 1996. From now on, the activity will focus on the electrical sector. The end of the cast iron industry that had made the Belval site famous since 1909 is announced.
The start of a new era
In 1997, a final symbolic casting is organised in the presence of the Prime Minister. A few weeks later the site is shut down.
For the steel giant, abandoning this land to its fate is out of the question. Belval has always been at the forefront of innovation. The site that marked the beginnings of Europe in 1953 with the first casting of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) must open up new horizons – fast!
The government strongly supports this ambition: Brownfield sites account for 5% of the surface area of the municipalities in the Southern region. They represent a unique opportunity for the revitalisation of the region and the development of the entire country.
First study stage
Belval’s current success is due in large part to its very methodical planning: before any action was taken, there was a meticulous research and investigation process, always anchored in a process of consultation with all the parties involved. Well before the birth of AGORA, the Economic Interest Grouping for the Study and Redevelopment of Iron and Steel Sites (GIE-Ersid), set up by the State and the steel group, was given the responsibility for drafting the first stages of the project in 1996.
The group presents its first ideas (AGIPLAN study) as early as December 1997, only four months after the last blast furnace at Belval was shut down! The study takes a close look at all the land left abandoned in the south, but also in French territory. . Its authors begin to imagine their possible futures by reflecting on the needs and the economic and social context and the prospects outlined by the Luxembourg State regarding town and country planning policy. It identifies Belval as the site to be given priority for development. The adventure can begin.
AGORA is born!
Three years elapse between the delivery of the AGIPLAN study and the creation of AGORA. Three years during which the Ministry of the Interior has been able to submit two strategic reports on the policy of reclaiming brownfield sites (1998 – 2000). A period at the end of which the State makes the conversion of the Belval-Ouest brownfield site the “priority of priorities” for the revitalisation of the Southern region.
This is the last essential link leading to the creation of AGORA. ArcelorMittal and the Luxembourg State are equal shareholders and work together. It is within AGORA that a new and innovative urban quarter will be imagined and turned into reality. Built around its industrial heritage, the revitalisation project was to foster the development of the knowledge economy in the south of the country and apply the principles of sustainable development. From the outset, AGORA’s mission corresponded well to the challenge of our time: to reconcile economic and ecological imperatives, to bring to life a place with a cultural and social life, and to put people and diversity at the centre of our thinking.
A fiercely interdisciplinary team
Today, there are 21 professionals shaping the landscape of Belval, always looking for innovative ways to develop the quarter. Their names are Beate, Jean-Claude, Vanessa, Robert, Vincent, Mandy. They come from several European countries and bring with them a wide range of experience and expertise.
At AGORA, town planners, landscape designers, engineers, geographers, economists, computer scientists and marketing specialists work hand in hand. The advantage for clients: all services come from a single source and are housed under one roof.
As part of an international and multidisciplinary team, they develop flexible solutions that are perfectly adapted to the needs of clients from both the public and private sectors.
We always get results
In a few years time, the planning and development of Belval will be completed. Already 18,000 people live, work, research or study there. Revitalisation is no longer a project. In a few years, the site has risen to become the 5th largest tertiary sector centre in the country with a stock of more than 215,000 m2 of office space already delivered. The trend is accelerating. In fact, the wasteland of the late 1990s has given way to an exemplary urban site with its contemporary architecture, incomparable accessibility, services and quality of life recognised by all. It is here, twenty years ago, that the success story of AGORA began.
For its future, the company is now turning its attention to the new challenge of converting the wasteland in Esch-Schifflange. The former steelworks site, operated from 1871 to 2012, has a code name: Alzette Quarter. AGORA now wants to give it a soul. The team is ready!
“Il était une fois” tells the history of AGORA through its events and encounters with people who have marked its history.
Discover all the articles of this series by clicking on the tag below.