Photo: Ines Thomsen / Thomsen Photography

After more than 10 years: “Goodbye Tobacco Factory, Good Luck Belmondo!”

Chris Müller leaves the management board of Tabakfabrik Linz after more than ten years. In the spirit of the innovation cycle, he hands over – two years before the end of his contract – a leased-out area in the profit zone that is moving into a new phase. He gives himself a “new life” as an entrepreneur, consultant, lecturer, author and traveler.

After 4,135 days in the service of the Tabakfabrik Linz, Director Chris Müller will leave the municipal development and operating company on April 30, 2023, and celebrate the “Day of New Work” on May 1. He is thus handing over a commercially profitable, fully rented out area that has achieved international renown and to date has attracted more than 2.5 million visitors:inside through new event formats.

What Chris Müller set in motion with the development of the Tabakfabrik Linz starting in 2012 is considered an international best-practice example for the transformation of an industrial wasteland with the additional challenges of its inner-city location and historic preservation. Acquired by the city of Linz after the closure of cigarette production in 2009, the former “Tschickbude” has been transformed in recent years into a creative and educational campus, a hub for innovation, IT, digitization and start-ups, which is also considered a flagship for the revitalization of listed architecture. With blockbusters such as the exhibitions “Tutankhamun”, “Titanic”, “Body Worlds” or “The mystery of Banksy”, the area opened to the public and also attracted many visitors from all over Austria. In 2015, the event rooms were converted into a warming shelter for refugees at short notice and with the help of the local population.

Open due to reconstruction – handed over due to renting out

The success can also be measured with figures: In combination with the long-started Quadrill new construction project, around 5,000 people will have access to a job at the Tabakfabrik site in 2025. 500 of them will also live at Peter-Behrens-Platz. Currently, around 3,000 people from 250 organizations, companies and associations have access to a job at the fully leased Tabakfabrik Linz, whose development and operating company is now already making a profit.

“Reasons for the orderly and amicable departure already two years before the end of my contract term are the achieved goals in the transformation of the site, natural innovation dynamics, personal principles and private matters, as well as the knowledge of one’s own transience and the resulting spirit of adventure,” says Chris Müller, who took over the site in 2012 – initially in the role of interim use coordinator. “Those who take innovation seriously and get the tobacco factory right will move on and hand over functions when the time is right.”

Chris Müller sees part of the recipe for success for the tobacco factory in the consistent alignment with a diverse settlement strategy based on a synergetic mix. Preference was not given to financially strong tenants, but to those who fit best. In addition, the concept not only reacted to current trends, but also gave the area a sustainable orientation. This does not only mean the more than 100 trees that have been planted at the site.

Thanks to the educational offerings of the Art University (Fashion & Technology, Creative Robotics and Tangible Music Lab), the Fadinger Gymnasium (Robotics and Digitization), the Evangelical Upper Secondary School ROSE (Digital Humanism) and the VALIE EXPORT Center Linz, the specialists of tomorrow are being trained at the Tobacco Factory.

Focus on operating

284 people worked at the Tobacco Factory Linz at the end of cigarette production, before it was finally closed by JTI in 2009. It was therefore important for the urban development of Linz to buy back the site and reopen it. An effort that has paid off: “It makes me proud that we have been able to create an international flagship in Linz that is visited by delegations from all over the world. What has been achieved here is enormous, and so it was possible to achieve full leasing earlier than expected. We have taken significant steps earlier, overcome significant hurdles earlier than originally forecast – despite all the challenges such as Covid, war and the refugee crisis,” says Mayor Klaus Luger, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Tabakfabrik Linz.

The total investment made in the site amounts to around 250 million euros. Luger emphasizes that he made the right strategic decisions at the right time. “This also includes having engaged Chris Müller for the development. He has tirelessly driven forward the basic concept of the tobacco factory and brought it to life through various formats. He has done essential networking work between education, industry, the start-up scene, and art and culture professionals. I would like to express my sincere thanks for these efforts in the service of the city of Linz. Chris Müller now hands over a leased-out area that has been successfully positioned economically.” Thus, the focus is now increasingly on the operation of the area, the further expansion of the offers for tenants and event organizers and on the interaction with the new building project Quadrill. “I wish Chris Müller all the best for his personal path!”

A new life for the 50th birthday

Chris Müller has given several thousand guided tours of the Tabakfabrik Linz site, held hundreds of lectures and designed many Learning Journeys. “I wouldn’t want to miss any of it,” he says in summary. “The past ten years have certainly been among the best of my life. For that, I would like to thank first and foremost my team, the tenants, the partners in the private sector and the city of Linz, the members of the Supervisory Board, and Mayor Klaus Luger.”

In terms of the innovation cycle – his own and that of the tobacco factory – he would have to move on. That’s why Chris Müller is giving himself a “new life” on his 50th birthday at the end of March 2023 – as a book author, lecturer, traveler, family man and, last but not least, as a consultant and entrepreneur. In this way, he will also devote more time to his heart’s project ATMOS, which is dedicated to the topic of health-promoting air. In doing so, he will not leave the Tabakfabrik completely and will be active in the future as an evangelist and driving player in the GRAND GARAGE network. The “Department of Disruptive Disciplines” founded by him and DELTA is a member of the GRAND GARAGE innovation workshop, which means Müller will remain loyal to the site and part of the innovation network. Also with the DELTA Group – specialists in construction, architecture and sustainability – and his company, Müller will contribute his knowledge to socially relevant work and his commitment to the reconstruction of Ukraine, for which talks are already underway with Promprylad in Ivano-Frankivsk.