Cannes Construction Leads to Chaos on the Croisette

Courtesy of Goeland Beach
An artist's rendering of the uniform deck along the beach.

Mayor David Lisnard's ambitious plan to transform the French coastal town into a high-end tourist destination for global 1-percenters is disrupting seaside eateries and sparking a backlash from the locals: "It's going to become like Dubai."

Under an aggressive plan led by Mayor David Lisnard, Cannes is set for a massive face-lift. And that doesn’t mean tasteful touch-ups; it’s a total overhaul. Beach shacks are set to be torn down and replaced with upscale establishments, main thoroughfare rue Felix Faure will be pedestrianized, and the somewhat seedy Liberte square will be transformed into a picture of Provencal perfection.

All that in a bid to make Cannes more appealing to the sun-seeking tourists who are the city’s economic lifeline.

Right across from the Palais, on what is now a building site, soon will rise a seven-story condo complex, First Croisette, with a penthouse (including prime red carpet views) priced at $35 million.

There are even plans to turn the rundown Palm Beach casino into a Monaco-style supper club complex — complete with a Cipriani luxury outpost — at a cost of at least $60 million.

But many locals say they have been bulldozed by the mayor, who decreed the changes over the objections of small business owners.

Take the decision to spruce up Liberte square, just up the street from the Palais. Restaurant owners who spoke with THR say they were only made aware of a new requirement to remove all covered spaces and convert restaurant fronts to open-air patios in early April. (They have until next year to comply.) When Cannes was hit by an unseasonably rainy spring, many were left scrambling - and soaked. One called it part of Lisnard’s “Don’t ask, just tell” policy.

Popular restaurants Caffe Roma and New York New York have been told they must remove their covered terraces, leaving the already overcrowded festival hotspots with just a quarter of their floor space and other eateries, including Upside Down Cafe and Steak and Shake, with virtually none.

Lisnard counters that the plans were made available in November and are only a step to enforce already-existing regulations.

“The terraces are not just terraces, they are real buildings built on public property,” Lisnard tells THR. “This also creates unfair competition with other businesses that do not benefit from the same use of space, as the rents for the terraces are very cheap compared with the cost of commercial rent.”

The steep increase in Cannes real estate prices already has led to the end of homegrown restaurants along the Croisette — replaced by the same high-end fashion chains found in Paris, London and L.A. “It’s going to become like Dubai,” says one local.

Down by the water, Cannes has been playing its own game of beach blanket bingo. When the city, after a contentious application process, renewed rental licenses for beachfront property this year, several established locales — Baoli Beach, Plage Royale — lost their prime spots. Even the iconic Hotel Martinez had to give up the eastern half of its Z Plage. The hotel has acquired the neighboring western Gold Beach, but that won’t open until next year.

In compliance with a national law to give local residents access to the waves — all of Cannes’ beaches are officially public — the city shipped in sand to give the terraces more room to operate and preserve more lots for business.

It’s all part of the mayor making good on his campaign promises to clean up — and glam up — the city, attracting the kind of tourist that, increasingly, is flying past Cannes en route to Barcelona, Mykonos or Marbella.

“You have competition from all over the world,” says Olivier Rotondaro, head of the beach restaurateurs union. “People are coming from London, Los Angeles, Russia. We can’t stay so simple. We need to change — we have to keep our smiles, of course — but we have to give people what they want.”

According to the mayor’s office, what the people want is upscale uniformity. Part of the new regulations stipulate that all new beaches have to be connected to the same long wood boardwalk, with each restaurant assigned an equal allotment of sand. Inside, restaurants are given free rein to create their own decor — within reason — but outdoor “affronts” like pink roofs or bright blue decks have been banned.

Authorities insist the revamp won’t disrupt this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Rotondaro himself downplays the changes, calling them mere “cosmetic surgery” that will not affect the heart of the city.

Locals, however, remain skeptical. New York, New York owner Christophe Caucino is spearheading the organization of a dozen restaurateurs to fight the changes before next year’s dismantling deadline. “If we can’t have the terraces, no one will be able to afford the rent,” he says. “In the center of Cannes in 10 years, we won’t have any restaurants anymore. It will just be too expensive.”

This story first appeared in the May 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.