The world’s number 2 amusement park will open a Legoland in 2027 on the former Caterpillar site. This investment of nearly 400 million euros should create 800 direct jobs.
On September 2, 2016, the Caterpillar group announced the closure of its civil engineering machinery manufacturing plant in Gosselies. Six years later, almost to the day, the British group Merlin Entertainments formalized during a press conference its intention to build, on this vast industrial site, the fourth Legoland amusement park in Europe, after those of Denmark. , United Kingdom and Germany (Bavaria). This investment, estimated at between 370 and 400 million euros, will be carried out in partnership with Belgian public players (Sogepa, owner of the site, is providing 100 million euros and SFPI, the federal government’s financial arm, should add 30 million). If all goes as planned, the park will open in the spring of 2027.
On September 2, 2016, the Caterpillar group announced the closure of its civil engineering machinery manufacturing plant in Gosselies. Six years later, almost to the day, the British group Merlin Entertainments formalized during a press conference its intention to build, on this vast industrial site, the fourth Legoland amusement park in Europe, after those of Denmark. , United Kingdom and Germany (Bavaria). This investment, estimated at between 370 and 400 million euros, will be carried out in partnership with Belgian public players (Sogepa, owner of the site, is providing 100 million euros and SFPI, the federal government’s financial arm, should add 30 million). If everything goes as planned, the park will open its doors in the spring of 2027. The initial idea was not to turn to an entertainment player but to canvass manufacturing players ready to take over the entire site of 110 hectares, very well located near the highway and the airport. A candidate quickly seemed to hold the rope: the Chinese start-up Thunder Power and its project to create a whole new brand of electric car. Its leaders even came to Charleroi in 2018 to sign a commitment with the Walloon government. This young company, which had never built the slightest vehicle, however, proved unable to materialize the project. The track of electric cars has not been abandoned, however. The Caterpillar site was indeed in Tesla’s short list for the establishment of its European gigafactory (finally located in Berlin). It has also been very seriously studied by Amazon, in search of a logistics hub. In total, more than 200 international groups were approached. But, today, the Legoland project is the only one to emerge. “Land of this size no longer corresponds to current industrial needs, observes Thomas Dermine, who was the linchpin of the post-Caterpillar industrial strategy in Charleroi (Catch plan) before becoming Secretary of State for Recovery. BMW plant in Mexico, their largest in the Americas is 45 ha. And Tesla in Germany is 70 ha.” The question then became: should the land be divided up, like what had been done at the time for the Ford Genk site, or should a new assignment be found with an interesting impact for the region? The Walloon authorities judged, on the one hand, that the supply of small plots intended for hosting businesses was sufficient (and this will be even more true after the conversion of the Carsid site in Charleroi) and, on the other on the other hand, that the Legoland project could provide a structuring impetus for the Walloon tourist industry. “There is a ‘tourism’ ecosystem with, not far away, the Pairi Daiza park or the Eau d’Heure lakes, explained the chairman of the Sogepa management committee, Sébastien Durieux, last spring in Trends- Trends. We must capitalize on this, especially since local holidays are undoubtedly the future.” “Medium-distance tourism, three or four hours away by road, will develop, adds Thomas Dermine. Wallonia has a good card to play. It constitutes an island of greenery in a highly urbanized and industrialized area. We don’t have any really exceptional attractions. With Legoland, we will have this lighthouse which will attract families for stays in Wallonia, where they will also go to Pairi Daiza, in the Ardennes and elsewhere. It’s a bit like the Primark effect , the sign that attracts shoppers to a shopping centre.” For the record, we remember that a meeting with Eric Domb, CEO and founder of Pairi Daiza, helped convince the leaders of the Merlin group of Hainaut’s tourist potential. At Sogepa, it is also recalled that the Lego brand is also very active in digital (Lego digital designer) and that its presence in Charleroi, even via an amusement park, can ultimately help structure the emerging ecosystem of gaming in Wallonia. Finally, this type of park has another advantage: it needs unskilled labour, which corresponds to the employment pool of Charleroi. A battery manufacturing plant might have come up against difficulties in recruiting qualified profiles, while logistics projects are not very intensive in terms of personnel. The Legoland project announces the creation of 800 direct jobs and 640 indirect (horeca, services, etc.) from the opening. As you will have noticed, at this stage, we are still only talking about a “project”. Certainly sufficiently advanced for the COO of Merlin Entertainments, John Jakobsen, to come and present it to the press himself, surrounded by a nice audience of ministers, but still at the project stage and with still some exit doors. provided for in the memorandum of understanding signed by the Walloon government. This protocol is “non-binding”, the two parties reserving the right to abandon the project if the estimated costs should continue to climb (in a few months, it has already gone from 300 to 400 million). “We should reach a binding agreement by the end of the year, after the latest technical studies”, assures the Minister of the Economy, Willy Borsus (MR). Staying within the current range, this would be the second largest investment in Wallonia in the last 10 years, after those operated by Google also in Hainaut. The risks of failure therefore exist but they seem much more measured than with Thunder Power. Merlin Entertainment already has some 140 tourist sites around the world (Legoland parks but also Madame Tussaud, Sea Life parks, etc.) and is the world number 2 in the sector, after Disney, with a turnover of 2 billion euros. It is in theory stronger than a Chinese start-up which had never built the slightest vehicle… The group is controlled by the holding company of the founding family of Lego, therefore a solid shareholder, a priori. All this means that, on the Walloon side, we are preparing to invest with confidence. The regional contribution would be 100 million, via a real estate company common to the Merlin group and the Belgian public financial tools (50/50). This Legoland Belgium JV would own the site, which it would make available (for a fee) to the Merlin group, in charge of operating and managing the park. What amortize the initial public contribution. Future investments for the maintenance and modernization of the fleet will be the responsibility of the operator. On average, Merlin reinvests 10% of the parks’ turnover in their renovation. An expansion is already planned. The current project leaves a reserve of 20 ha for a second phase of development, depending on the evolution of the number of visitors (the projections count on 1.5 million entries at the beginning and 2 million in the long term). This would allow, according to the promoters, to review the job creation figures “significantly upwards”. 2022_08_30_12_35_29_60.xml