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New Museum

Metz, a French answer to Bilbao?

Luc Citrinot, eTN  Jul 19, 2010

METZ, France (eTN) - What could bring fame to Metz in Eastern France, a 220,000 inhabitants metropolis, which disputes to rival Nancy the title of largest city in the Lorraine region? For generations of French men, Metz remains a synonym to military incorporation, a city dominated by an incredible number of baracks. Metz has since lost a lot of its military activity but this unfriendly sad image lingers in the collective memory. For other travelers, Metz is simply a huge train station, just good enough for a connection to neighboring Luxemburg and Germany.

Looking at tourism, Metz has already almost everything which could turn it into an attractive destination: It has a lovely old town with medieval, renaissance and XVIII-century-style buildings. The Jaumont stone gives to Metz gothic cathedral its typical yellow color. The cathedral is one of the finest in France and one of the largest. Metz has also an impressive German style district with huge mansions constructed between 1870 and 1914 and exhalting the grandeur of the German Empire. And it finally has universities, museums, lively ceity squares where people like to gather and at even a lake and forests in its city center.

Metz now puts all its hopes into a new museum, which could turn completely the destiny of the city. In 2003, the French government took the dfecision to decentralize Parisians' most prestigious cultural institutions: Metz won the first annex of the Centre Pompidou, while Lens in the north will host from 2012 an annex of the Louvre Museum. Metz was selected for geographical reasons with its easy access from Eastern France, Germany, Luxemburg, and Belgium, but also because it had no modern and contemporary art collections.

The new Centre Pompidou Metz (CPM) was opened last May and is assured to become Metz' new symbol. The strcuture was conceived by well-known Japanese architect Shigeru Ban and French architect Jean de Gastines. Rising 77 meters above the city, the CPM is a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which evokes a vast marquee surrounded by a square and garden. Its main character inside is a vast nave made of an airy wooden canvas. The typical shape of the building is visible from the train, as the museum is only located two minutes away from the rail station. Inside, the CPM offers over 5,000 m2 of space dedicated to exhibitions. The building has indeed no permanent collection but will host special exhibits renewed twice a year.

With such a contemporary inconic structure and excellent art exhibitions, Metz city hopes to become a second Bilbao. A large rather industrial city in Northern Spain, Bilbao has turned into a cultural destination thanks to the presence of the Guggenheim Museum built by US star architect Franck Gehry and opened in 1997. Today, the cultural institution attracts a million visitors per year and generates some €1.5 billion to the local economy. Metz dreams now to reproduce such a success. So far, the city welcomed in 2008 over 928,000 overnights in its hotels, which would represent an estimated 600,000 visitors per year. However, the Lorraine region alone generates 43 percent of all overnights followed by Germany with 22 percent. But the first signs are encouraging: CPM's exhibition “Masterpieces?” already attracted 200,000 visitors between May 12 and July 16, a number which represents already projections for the first year of activity. CPM management estimates that the museum will now attract in its first year some 400,000 visitors. The city’s task will be to entice visitors to pay a look to the rest of the city.

But the CPM can already be considered as a major boost to redefine the entire city. A new district is now in development around the museum, which should see the construction of offices, appartments, a commercial center, a garden, and in the longer term, a new hotel and convention hall. Partners are now finalizing the convention hall financing. It will offer a 16,000 m² of surface and will integrate an amphitheater with a capacity for 1,200 delegates.

Metz, a French answer to Bilbao?
The new Centre Pompidou Metz / Photo by Luc Citrinot

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