In a corner of a previously rundown district in south-east Paris, hundreds of workers are tackling the challenge of turning a listed railway goods yard into an ultra-modern global hub for internet development.
The Halle Freyssinet is an ambitious €200m (£150m) development that city officials hope will become the world’s biggest startup incubator and attract about 1,000 French and foreign technology entrepreneurs. It is by far the biggest and most visually impressive of a series of projects that the Socialist mayor, Anne Hidalgo, hopes will put Paris on the international technology map.
“We hope it will create employment. I am conviced the metropolis has an important role in boosting the French ecnomy. This will be a place to create enterprises à la mode française,” Hidalgosaid.
The mayor, who donned a hard hat and steel-toed boots to tour the building site, said the incubator was intended to create up to 4,000 jobs and would show the success of joint ventures involving private and public money.
“It’s a win win situation. At a time when our economy is in the doldrums we need to accelerate job creation and give youngsters opportunities to find employment by linking pulbic and private investment. In doing so everyone wins.”
The 35,000 square metre hall, which will house 1,000 startup offices and a 400-seat auditorium, is financed by private investment, but the city authorities are spending an additional €70m sprucing up the surrounding area, including the creation of housing, shops, a paved walkway and a garden.
The money behind the transformation of the Freyssinet, which was built in 1927 and used by the state railway company SNCF to unload goods trains directly onto lorries waiting on the quayside, has been provided by telecommunications and technology tycoon Xavier Niel, the co-owner of Le Monde newspaper. He is also part owner of the rights to the song My Way.
Niel, who created the French internet service provider Free and whose net worth has been estimated at $10bn (£6.9bn), said he was funding the project out of his personal, as opposed to company, funds.
“We’re deliberately creating something that is the biggest in the world and make people look at us and realise it’s not just the Anglo Saxons who can create things bigger and better,” Niel said.
“I’ve been fortunate to make a lot of money in this country and I want to give a chance to young people who have ideas and want to do something. I’m financing the hall out of my personal funds, but not for personal gain. There’s nothing in it for me.