DIJON: Heated debates before the assignment of the Parc des Expositions delegation to GL Event

As voted by the city council, this Monday 5 December, the giant GL Events associated with the CCI will manage the fairgrounds from next January.

Laurent Bourguignat criticized “a political dossier”. “Competent local actors will be sacrificed for the benefit of large external groups”, regrets Emmanuel Bichot. François Rebsamen announced the reconstruction of pavilion 1 “in line with current energy performance standards”.

The mayor of Dijon being able to count on his majority, the opposition had refined its arguments for the beauty of the gesture and the democratic debate even if some observations had been made to make the elected representatives of said majority hesitate in front of some unknowns of the equation .

A tender, two candidates, a delegate but also a restructuring project that will only be presented next year. Finally, this Monday December 5, 2022, the consortium formed by GL Events and the CCI Métropole de Bourgogne Côte-d’Or Saône-et-Loire won by a large majority the public service delegation for the management of the Exhibition Center and the Palais des Congrès of the city of Dijon.

Group formed by GL Events and CCI

The CCI Métropole de Bourgogne Côte-d’or Saône-et-Loire – the name changed discreetly during the autumn to integrate the two departments into the logo of the consular chamber – was formed in November 2021 from the merger of the chambers of commerce and the l industry of the Côte-d’Or and Saône-et-Loire.

GL Events is a giant of events present in 25 countries with 50 offices including 32 in France. Capitalization reached 628 million euros in 2020, turnover 741.2 million euros in 2021.

To apply, GL Events and the CCI have concocted a new company providing respectively 80% and 20% of the capital of 100,000 euros.

Understood as a “transitional delegation”, the duration was set at five years. Current employees of Dijon Congrexpo will be able to become employees of the new delegate.

In particular, the role of the CCI will be to help define the business development strategy, be involved in hosting seminars, monitor the expectations of professionals and source service providers.

After the validation of the applications and a negotiation phase conducted by the departments, the two offers were put into competition. The offer from GL Events and the CCI was accepted and put to the vote of the city council.

Reconstruction of pavilion 1 in its current location

The main unknown lies in the construction aspects. François Rebsamen has announced that Hall 1 of the exhibition center will be completely rebuilt on site. After initially considering a budget of 12 million euros, the cost of the reconstruction is now estimated at 42 million euros, an “indicative” figure that will be refined according to the studies.

A planning permission for the work to be done is expected to be presented to elected city officials during the first half of 2023. The construction could last until 2025.

“A new era for the Dijon destination”, according to François Rebsamen

Taking the floor to start examining the report in the city council, François Rebsamen outlines the issues relating to the call for tenders and the new delegation: “attracting more events to Dijon, increasing business tourism in a context of greater competitiveness, diversifying programming but also to renew the equipment by building a new pavilion in place of pavilion 1”.

“The potential of the facilities is not exploited up to the ambitions of attractiveness and influence of the City and the Metropolis”, indicates the mayor in relation to the observations made on the occasion of the launch of the tender, mainly including events for the general public such as the Foire de Dijon, the home show, Auto Moto Rétro and Aging Well in Côte-d’Or. “The programming offered for so many years has finally changed very little over time”, he summarizes, thus asking for a “renewal”.

As for the redevelopment of the site, “it is a question of re-establishing coherence with a quality of spaces and development” and “finally bringing it to energy performance standards”. Rebuilt, pavilion 1 would become “a building in line with current construction, market and energy performance standards”.

Incidentally, François Rebsamen points out that local authorities have recently invested to develop their respective exhibition centres, for example by mobilizing a budget of 80 million euros in Reims, 150 million euros in Orléans or even 311 million euros in Toulouse. “We have to move,” he comments.

“The renovations of the [parc des expositions] it will mark the beginning of a new era for the Dijon destination. (…) It is a question of a new local, national and international cooperation and of offering a visibility reinforced by the strength of this network, that of GL Events”, indicates François Rebsamen.

“It is proposed to retain the candidate who commits himself to the lowest participation figures,” slips Laurent Bourguignat

“It is a political dossier, their report presenting the reasons for the choice of candidate is a dependent report”, launches Laurent Bourguignat (LR) right from the start to set the tone for his speech. “The attribution of marks to candidates is sometimes surprising and, indeed, poorly substantiated.”

The call for tenders took place in a context of growing tensions between the City of Dijon and the current delegate, the Dijon Congrexpo association, even more so between the mayor François Rebsamen and the president of the association Jean Battault. Tensions peaked during the 2021 edition of the Dijon Fair, where François Rebsamen had not been invited.

At the same time, Dijon Congrexpo had entered a civil action in a defamation lawsuit brought by Yves Bruneau against François Rebsamen. Now retired, Yves Bruneau had been director general of Dijon Congrexpo after being chief of staff to Dijon Mayor Robert Poujade (RPR), in office from 1971 to 2001. In September 2020, François Rebsamen addressed the salary topic. He was acquitted of this claim last July (read our article).

“Paradoxically, it is proposed to retain the candidate who commits himself to the lowest participation figures,” slips Laurent Bourguignat.

According to the opponent, GL Events announces 991,000 visitors in five years through 125 events against 1.2 million visitors in 168 events for Dijon Congrexpo. GL Events is planning to increase rental rates for exhibitors. The fee paid to the City of Dijon by GL Events is announced at 20,000 euros per year for the years 2023 to 2025, “a far cry” from the current annual fee of 300,000 euros paid by Dijon Congrexpo.

“It is a pity that a conflict of people translates into entrusting strategic equipment such as our Palais des Congrès, our Parc des Expositions to a large national group that intends to make Dijon an additional base in what it calls its fair portfolio on rotation”, analyzes Laurent Bourguignat who prefers to defend “the model of an association made up of entrepreneurs” being “less profit-oriented and more territorial-oriented”.

Proposal for a parking silos along the railway line

With regard to the renovation of pavilion 1, the opponent says he is “surprised that such a strategic and substantial investment has not been the subject of a presentation and a vote in the city council, it is up to those elected to decide on the future of the equipment”.

Otherwise, the Dijon group calls for “a broader and long-term reflection that must include the entire neighborhood and also the land along the railway line that could accommodate a parking lot”.

“You deeply question all those who have done this expert work, who are very respectable people and I consider it serious enough to say that they have made a political report against them,” reacts François Rebsamen.

“You go from improvisation to mess,” adds Emmanuel Bichot

“The management of this dossier is still incoherent, it goes from improvisation to confusion”, adds Emmanuel Bichot (LR) asking that “the resolution be withdrawn”. “We believe that the powers of our assembly are not respected and that the proposed contract is not feasible.”

The opponent regrets not knowing “the characteristics” of the equipment once it has been refurbished: “the renovation project of the Exhibition Center is not yet concluded. (…) We therefore find ourselves this evening on the verge of making an important legal commitment of at least 42 million euros excluding taxes on the basis of a project that is not even presented in the resolution”.

“This degree of unpreparedness is astounding when dealing with equipment that has been out of service since his election in 2001 and which we have known for years that is dilapidated at the end of its life”, comments Emmanuel Bichot who judges that “competent local actors will be sacrificed to advantage of large external groups”.

Axel Sibert considers the offer of GL Events and the CCI “financially attractive”.

“The two proposals received are of quality and allow us to consider the new contract positively”, believes for his part the independent opponent Axel Sibert (LR). “The offer provided by GL Events – the flagship of the French event – is attractive both from a financial point of view and in terms of business”.

Creation of a congress office

Among the majority, Jean-Philippe Morel (PR), chastises the “caricatural accusations” of the opponents who spoke earlier. The elected underlined that the contract guarantees a “regular organization” of the Dijon International and Gastronomic Fair: “we have the will to maintain its identity”. Jean-Philippe Morel announces that the delegate will work in synergy with the International City of Gastronomy and Wine.

Sladana Zivkovic (PS), elected municipal official and president of the metropolitan tourist office, announces the creation of a future congress office that will work with the new delegate to support the organizers, “strengths that will make Dijon a point of reference in terms international”.

The socialist regrets that the tourist office is not represented on the board of directors of Dijon Congrexpo.

“The Fair will continue”, assures François Rebsamen

“You have gathered elements to try to make people believe in a political assembly that they absolutely wanted to eliminate [Dijon] Congrexpo”, replies François Rebsamen addressing Laurent Bourguignat. “Of all the 32 French sites, they have never – not once – resorted to a national restaurateur,” he insists.

“There is continuity of service. It is a municipal service. It is the municipality which owns the equipment and which also owns the Dijon Fair, it is not the delegate”, insists the mayor. “The Fair will continue even if it is interrupted for the entire duration of the works”.

And add: “Today the choice is not so much to know who is delegated by the city as to develop economic activity and ensure the growth of business tourism. We are convinced that this structure – where it is located – has the potential to host more events related to the economic fabric, more national or even international congresses”.

At the time of the vote, the choice of the grouping of GL Events and CCI was approved with 48 votes in favor – including that of the independent opponent Stéphane Chevalier (various right) – against 4 abstentions among the opponents – three Greens and one the independent Axel Sibert (LR) – and 7 votes against – members of the opposition groups Agir pour Dijon and Dijon differently.

When asked, the Dijon Congrexpo association declined to comment on the choice of the City of Dijon.

Jean-Christophe Tardivon






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