“Covivio supports long-term urban transformation”

  • Residential


  • Benoît Fragu

    Development Director, Covivio

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  • Julien Drouaud

    Director of Covivio’s French Residential Division

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To carry out its projects to transform office buildings into housing, Covivio acts as a “local player” that is highly attentive to regional expectations. Benoît Fragu, Head of Development, and Julien Drouaud, Head of the France Residential division, explain how Covivio’s projects support urban transformation over the long term.

Julien Drouaud: We are a global real estate operator whose actions are geared towards the long term. Our forward-thinking mindset is reflected in our projects for transforming office assets into housing. During the 2000s, we acquired various buildings in the Ile-de-France region, as well as the rest of France, whose original function as office buildings is no longer relevant today. The urban transformation of these buildings is what we want to support.

Benoît Fragu: We are not one of those real estate companies that leave behind an industrial brownfield after operations have ceased, sell it to a developer and then clear off. On the contrary, we think hard about what we can do with these structures. How can we redevelop this land? How can we deliver operations that ultimately reflect our image and rhyme with our values? All of this is deeply rooted in our DNA: we want to write the story of these buildings from A to Z.

Covivio portrays itself as a “local player”. How does this affect your activities in practice?

Julien Drouaud: The deep and long-standing roots we have put down in the regions give us the right to define ourselves in this way. We are a multi-product operator (offices, hotels, residential, etc.) recognised by other local players. We are deeply involved in the urban spaces where we operate and in the economic life of the surrounding region. In Bordeaux, for example, Covivio is an active supporter of the Cité Numérique start-up ecosystem. Meanwhile, we develop an in-depth knowledge of the regions in which our assets are located. This approach allows us to become a part of the new urban dynamic and design projects in line with the public interest and regional expectations.

Benoît Fragu: Being a true local player means being able to understand and support the needs of the region. As part of the Noème residential project in Bordeaux, which will ultimately comprise 750 housing units including 427 family homes, we have worked on creating a nursery, Simon de Cyrène houses for persons with disabilities and a number of cross-generational programmes. Our grassroots presence also allows us to pinpoint infrastructure that can serve the needs of the community as part of a project. This is the case in Rueil-Malmaison, for example, where offices are destined to be converted into a residential space. We have preserved a conference hall originally used for business purposes, suggesting that in future it could serve a new purpose for the benefit of a broader public (local theatre or cinema, etc.). Propositions like this enhance the interest of a project.

How do you plan projects alongside local authorities?

Julien Drouaud: We work closely with local authorities and their elected officials. When we submit a project, we sometimes need to convince our audience, as some local councils would prefer to keep their business parks intact… despite the fact that sundry analyses have confirmed the need for urban regeneration projects aimed at creating mixed-use neighbourhoods. During our discussions, we submit proposals and try to get all the stakeholders on board.

Benoît Fragu: This also involves listening to requests made by elected officials. In one of our projects, the local authority wanted some of the housing units to be designed as a residence for seniors. We have incorporated this wish into the sale specifications, an example of how we work for the benefit of the community. We strive to build a relationship of trust with elected officials. They are also aware that Covivio is not engaged in a race for density and square meters, but, on the contrary, that we agree to “de-densify” through our office-to-housing conversions. Naturally, we want to increase the value of our land. But above all, we focus on virtuous projects that defend the public interest. We reduce land take and seek to promote social diversity. And our efforts to perform quality operations are paying off: in Bordeaux for example, the city council continued to support our Noème project despite changing hands after the local elections in 2020.