Even a grande dame like Monte Carlo needs the occasional face-lift.
The swanky district at the heart of Monaco is about to embark on a four-year construction project that will transform the area around its storied casino into what promises to be one of the premium luxury shopping destinations on the French Riviera.
The Société des Bains de Mer, which owns and manages most of the key properties in the tiny principality, has tapped architecture firm Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners to tear down the Art Deco-period Sporting d’Hiver and replace it with a seven-building retail, residential and office complex.
Concurrently, the neighboring Hôtel de Paris, which is home to a number of luxury retailers both inside and on its outside perimeter, will undergo a wide-ranging renovation, though it will remain open for business during the period.
The project will cost an estimated 600 million euros, or $825 million at current exchange, and will result in more than 53,000 square feet of retail space, more than 170,000 square feet of apartments and some 33,000 feet of office space, in addition to an art gallery, conference center and parking lot.
At the center of the development will be a new pedestrian street housing luxury stores and a restaurant with an outdoor terrace.
Valérie Parent, asset manager at SBM, said the group rapidly realized that the transformation of the Sporting d’Hiver required a rethink of the entire neighborhood.
“There is growing demand both from existing residents and from new residents arriving in Monaco. Therefore, we wanted to broaden our offer in terms of the number of brands, without veering toward megastores,” she said.
“It’s true that in terms of retail space, we will never be able to match the surface areas of Cannes, for example, but we are betting more on quality than quantity,” Parent added, noting that due to the lack of available space, stores in Monaco rarely exceed 4,300 square feet.
Foreigners make up around half of the 20 million tourists that flock to the Côte d’Azur every year, making the region the second-biggest tourism destination in France after Paris, according to the 2013 report from the Côte d’Azur Tourism Observatory.
Monaco, the world’s second-smallest country with an area of just 0.78 square miles, is not only home to wealthy internationals like retail magnate Sir Philip Green, but is also the region’s primary destination for day trippers, drawing 7.5 million visitors a year, the report said.
They come as much to take in local attractions like the Oceanographic Museum, the region’s top tourist draw with close to 670,000 visitors in 2012, as to ogle the gleaming Ferraris, Bentleys and Maseratis parked in front of the casino.
Built in 1931, the Sporting d’Hiver presently houses about 15 luxury brands and banks, including Chanel, Dior, Saint Laurent, Céline and Bulgari, said Parent. Existing tenants, with the exception of a couple of independent stores, will return to the complex once it’s completed with bigger stores and will be joined by up to 10 new brands.
“It will depend on their size, but the main thing is that [the brands will have] better visibility with much taller and wider windows and much better accessibility than today,” said Parent.
Work on the project, which is being coordinated by local architect Alexandre Giraldi, is set to begin on Oct. 1 and last until the end of 2018. During this period, luxury brands will be housed in five temporary pavilions with a combined size of nearly 27,000 square feet in the nearby Jardins des Boulingrins.
Dubbed the Pavillons des Merveilles, the pod-shaped two-story pavilions designed by architect Richard Martinet range in size from 2,370 square feet to 6,460 square feet and will welcome such brands as Louis Vuitton, Dior, Chanel, Miu Miu, Boucheron and Piaget.
The hoarding around the gardens has been customized by digital strategy firm Movingdesign with two giant LED screens that act as a revolving digital showcase for luxury groups including LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Prada.
The future Sporting d’Hiver will feature a faithful reconstruction of its current Salles des Arts events venue, alongside an “internationally renowned” art gallery, Parent said.
She believes Monaco has another edge over neighboring Nice and Cannes, which have been plagued in the last year by a rash of high-profile jewelry heists, including the theft of gems with a retail value of $136 million from the Carlton hotel in Cannes last July.
“We have a major advantage here in Monaco, which is security,” she noted. “I think it’s one of the only places, at least in Europe, where you can walk outside wearing your finest jewelry, without any problems. So there are some very pleasant aspects here.”