While The Walt Disney Company is not best known for urban development, it was instrumental in starting the Val d’Europe project on the eastern side of Paris 35 years ago.
“The French government, back in the day, decided to develop the eastern side of Paris which was, compared to the western side and other parts of Paris and Île-de-France, the greater Paris region, underdeveloped,” explained Disneyland Paris SVP and CFO Boris Solbach.
The Disneyland Paris park was the starting point and Disney was granted land rights around that to develop Val d’Europe.
“35 years ago, there was nothing but fields and a park and a few buildings around,” Solbach told Real Asset Insight’s Richard Betts.
Now, however, it has turned into one of the most dynamic business and residential communities in France.
“We went from zero inhabitants to about 55,000 inhabitants today. We went from zero companies – except Disney – to about 7,300 companies in Val d’Europe today and we created 44,000 jobs on site with these companies,” Solbach said.
But the story is not over as only 50% of the land identified by the French government has been developed and it will take another 10 to 30 years until this has been developed to its full extent.
Disneyland does work with other investors. “We plan in phases. We’re currently in Phase Four. We’re going to Phase Five. as part of these phases we clearly define which plot of land serves which purpose and then we reach out to investors to say ‘are you interested in coming to Val d’Europe? What are you planning to do, residential or commercial?’ And we’re looking at opportunities we have where these companies could be located.”
There is a dedicated area called The Business Park with a high concentration of small and medium sized companies. There is an area for logistics, even though logistics is not one of the key elements. And there are several areas where companies from services, banking to small manufacturing and logistics can be located.
Solbach said that one unique advantage to ensure strong “liveability” is that the project has been built from scratch. “As part of the master plans, we dedicate specific land just for green spaces, public spaces, parks, water, bicycle paths. That’s built into the overall plan.”
“It’s a very liveable Community where don’t overdevelop, we don’t have high rises, we don’t have massive residential blocks and we’re pursuing the 10- to 15-minute community where your daily needs are within a 10- to 15-minute walk – from kindergarten, to school, to your little retail store, restaurants whatever you need – plus of course public transportation.”
Because the area has been built from scratch it was not hampered by having to work with existing infrastructure.
Sustainability has also been key and there is a geothermal and energy plant that serves the Disneyland resort and also the Val d’Europe community. Biomass energy plants will also be built over the next couple of years.
Heat is also recovered from a large data centre which is used to heat the swimming pool located at The Business Park where it also heats offices.
“It’s a very unique project that garnered a lot of attention,” said Solback. Disney itself built one of the largest solar canopy plants in Europe over its 11,200-space parking lot and produces 36 will now be covered with solar panels 88,000 in total we’re producing 36 GWe of energy serving the equivalent of 17,000 people.
The Walt Disney Company also has a big focus on biodiversity with strategic location of green spaces and ponds and plants and animals are returning the community that would never have been expected in an urban development.