“We’re attracting brands with a story and a soul”

The site of Tour & Taxis is a world unto itself. As it has been for quite some time now, but with the completion of the impressive Gare Maritime and the development of the residential area Park Lane, the world of Tour & Taxis is expanding. We’ve had the chance to sit down with Extensa’s Retail Manager Helga Cosyns,  who is right at the center of the latest innovations. She tells us all about her new job, her challenges and the vision for Tour & Taxis’ future.

Hi Helga! Let’s kick off with an easy question: what do you do at Extensa?

Helga Cosyns: “Since about 2 months I’m the brand-new Retail Manager of the Tour & Taxis site. Which means I’m in charge of the commercialization of all retail spaces on site, with a strong focus on the brand-new Gare Maritime, obviously. It’s an interesting new opportunity for me, which builds on my previous professional experiences. You know the word ‘fashionista’? Well, I describe myself as a ‘retailista’. I’ve been in this business for more than 30 years and I’m still as passionate about my field as I was the day I started. For the first 15 years I was the real estate manager for Delvaux, the Belgian brand of luxury leather goods. After that experience I went on to handle different kinds of commercial real estate. I’ve been in charge of the long-term development of different shopping centers, which has been a wild and bumpy ride to say the least. But I’ve always managed to steer through it. It’s all about correctly adapting to the latest trend in consumer behavior. Which is exactly what we’re doing here at Tour & Taxis today.”

That sounds interesting! How would you describe your vision for the site? And for Gare Maritime, since that’s your main focus at the moment?

Helga Cosyns: “There truly is a shared vision throughout the team of Extensa. Tour & Taxis is to really become a new neighborhood in the capital, where the historic elements serve as a stunning backdrop for a modern lifestyle destination. And yes, I know the word ‘lifestyle’ has been hollowed out over the last few years, but there’s really no better way to describe it. Both Tour & Taxis  and the Gare Maritime are all about lifestyle. About a way of life and combining the different areas of that life all in one spot. It’s about authenticity, credibility and a coherent combination of different ‘functions’ right along one another. Tour & Taxis is a place to work, shop, have a dinner or grab a drink with your friends, to visit an exposition or an event, to stroll through the park, to take in the historic sights and … to live. We need a long-term feelgood strategy to make sure all of these functions blend in together well.”

And can you tell us a bit more about that strategy? How are you, as the Retail Manager, handling the commercial development of the Gare Maritime and other retail locations on site?

Helga Cosyns: “For starters, our strategy is radically different from that of a classic commercial pool, like for instance a shopping mall. I can’t just open my address book and contact ‘the usual suspects’ so to say. We’re trying to attract other brands, who answer the demands of our public and who realy want to make an impact. Tour & Taxis is rapidly becoming a new kind of ‘quartier’ in Brussels and a destination for both locals and visitors. We’ve decided the new food hall has to be the driver of it all. Here we don’t need to see the usual food chains, but new, fresh concepts which offer food of the highest quality with a soul and a story. The same principle applies to the retailers we wish to attract. We would love the Gare Maritime to be a home for brands with good, exciting stories. That doesn’t mean that the big household names won’t be welcome, but they need to be able to show that they are conscious about their brand, products and stories. They need to question themselves and be able to adapt to these new times.”

Can you already give us a hint about the brands which will come to the Gare Maritime?

We’re still in the earliest stages of the commercialization. We’ve made a list of brands who represent our values. We are eager to attract some new brands, pop-ups and brands for whom Belgium is still uncharted territory. Our goal is to create a coherent set of retailers and brands, and to have a positive impact on this environment, both for visitors, people who work on or near the site and the future residents of Park Lane.”

You have a lot of experience in the world of retail, how do you see its future? Especially after these troubling times of COVID-19?

Helga Cosyns: “Belgium has always been a sort of stubborn and quite traditional market. There has always been a lot of reluctance in these regions to try new things. But there’s a new generation of consumers now, who demand changes. And COVID has actually put these more traditional retailers with their backs against the wall. They need to adapt now, or they will be a lost cause. There’s a few things retailers need to consider from now on: the comfort of online shopping has definitely convinced the majority of shoppers and people have become very aware of the sustainable and local aspects of their consumerism. The shops and brands need to connect with their clients, on a whole different level than ever before. They need to be able to create a social link with the consumers. That’s exactly why we’re focusing on brands with a story to tell. A unique vision. And why we’re creating a safe place where people will find both restaurants, bars, event venues, cultural opportunities and nature, all in one spot. Tour & Taxis has to be a place that both effects and affects. It’s a challenge, but I believe we can do it! I’m 150% sure!”