At the end of last year, the banking group KBC announced that it would sell its famous ‘Boerentoren’, the majestic 95.75 meter high art-deco building in the centre of Antwerp. The banking group issued a tender procedure, which ION immediately responded to. “We knew from the beginning that it would not be easy to win the tender, but we were successful because of our team’s enormous effort and our capacity to think outside the box,” says Davy Demuyck, the CEO of ION. “The grand scale of this project and our wish to keep the iconic building under one ownership, caused us to quite quickly decide to seek a partner. We preferred a local partner who could provide a Flemish entrenchment. I immediately thought of Fernand Huts and the Katoen Natie Group, where I started my career in 2003. We quickly reached a partnership agreement. For this project, ION will serve as the project developer. It will execute this grand project in a bespoke manner from start to finish for the Katoen Natie Group that will serve as a long term investor.
This extraordinary cooperation will make culture the beating heart of the monument. With its spaces for temporary and extended expositions, art depos, restoration workshops, monument gardens, movie theater, auditorium, panoramic halls, bookshop etc. the ‘Boerentoren’ will earn its place in Antwerp between the other large heritage- and cultural institutions. The ‘culture tower’ will broaden Antwerp’s appeal as a true culture city.
The project will also combine the cultural aspect with future-oriented retail on the ground and first floor (on the side of the Schoenmarkt, Meirbrug and Eiermarkt). Visitors will be able to pass through the building, where they will be able to experience a mix of food and leisure, while the narrow part of the tower (between the 11th and the 23rd floor) will house apartments, as has already been the case in the past. The cherries on the top will be the observatory and the panoramic hall that are spread across the top three floors (between the 24th and the 26th floor), so that everybody can fully enjoy the exceptional 360 degree view.
“As someone from Antwerp’s Seefhoek neighborhood, It gives me an intense pleasure to develop a company - Katoen Natie - that can provide a new dynamic to the ‘Boerentoren’ with a cultural underpinning”, says Fernand Huts, chairman and CEO of the Katoen Natie Group. The ‘culture tower’ will broaden Antwerp’s appeal as a true culture city. The ‘Boerentoren’ will be a gift to the people of Antwerp and Flanders, as well as the international visitors. Because of its accessibility and its new functions, it will from now on be a true and real part of the urban society and a tower that everybody can be proud of.”
ION is very proud that it can contribute to the writing of a new page in the history of one of our country’s most monumental buildings. “This exceptional project will test us in all sorts of ways, but we are happy to accept this challenge,” says CEO Davy Demuynch. “As a team, we are more than ever ready to demonstrate all that we are capable of and to embrace projects of this size and turning them into a success.”
If everything goes according to plan, we can start the initial works on the ‘Boerentoren’ in the spring of 2021.
When the ‘Boerentoren’ was completed in 1931, it was the first skyscraper on the European continent. The tower was then 87.5 meters high. At that time, only the Cathedral of Our Lady was higher. Also interesting: the Empire State Building opened its doors in the same year. The 381 meter tall building in New York was the highest skyscraper in the world for forty years.
The skyscraper was first named the ‘tower building’, but quickly received the nickname ‘Boerentoren’ or ‘Farmers Tower’. This name referred to the involvement of the Belgian Farmers Union that controlled the building’s developer, the ‘Algemeene Bankvereniging. Many years later, the ‘Boerentoren’ became public property.
In 1975-76 the top of the ‘KBC-Tower Building’ was renovated and the ‘Boerentoren’ was raised an additional 10 meters. Today, the skyscraper is approximately 95.75 meters tall. Meanwhile, it is no longer the tallest skyscraper in Antwerp. Since 2019, this title goes to the ‘Antwerp Tower’, which is 100.7 meters tall.
The ‘Boerentoren’ was labeled a protected monument in 1981, because of its historical value for Antwerp and Flanders. The protection concerns the building’s facades and the roofing.