In conversation: the sky-high ambitions of Fernand Huts and Davy Demuynck
From financial skyscraper to innovative culture tower
Bringing Fernand Huts and Davy Demuynck together generates great chemistry. Both businessmen share the same well-defined views, are bursting with ambition, and like to think outside the box. Their joint project to revive the Boerentoren is a considerable challenge. But that’s precisely what stimulates them to make history with the culture tower.
No-nonsense and innovative
“Fernand, I have an idea.” It would be an under- statement to say that the phone call from Davy Demuynck, ION’s CEO, to Antwerp’s top entrepreneur Fernand Huts was an inspired move. “For ION to win the KBC tender, we had to be creative and innovative.”
For the Boerentoren’s renovation, Davy Demuynck immediately thought of a partnership with Katoen Natie. “My own career started with Fernand Huts, and I know that we’re made of the same mold: no-nonsense and innovative. I can only admire the things he’s accomplishing internationally.”
While Fernand Huts may be a man of the world, he is a purebred Antwerp native raised in Seefhoek. This Flemish art expert also owns an extensive art collection through The Phoebus Foundation and has organized numerous high-profile exhibitions in recent years. One brainstorming session was enough. The Boerentoren will be a culture tower. Katoen Natie will acquire the building, and ION will renovate the iconic skyscraper from start to finish.
“The more culture a city can offer, the more appeal it will have,” says Huts. “The Boerentoren has tremendous heritage value. It symbolizes the financial and eco- nomic emancipation of Flanders. We want to convert the tower into an artistic and social reference point for both Antwerp and Flanders. The Boerentoren 2.0 will become a culture tower that everyone can be proud of.”
After being vacant for some time, the monument will be given a new lease on life. It will have exhibition areas, movie theaters, an art depot, a restoration studio, and a sculpture garden. The first and second floors will feature retail spaces as well as offices, apartments, and hospitality venues. There will be two panoramic rooms with spectacular views of Antwerp. “This is a tale of philanthropy unseen in Europe,” adds Davy. “Nearly all buildings of such dimensions have closed doors. We endeavor to open the tower to the public as much as possible. We want to return the Boerentoren to the people as a source of experience. So, the bottom of the building will be made passable. This allows passersby to stroll through, linger, and be stimulated to take a look inside.”
ION has become one of the top five players in Belgium in a very short time. This extraordinary project will place the West Flemish real estate developer even more prominently on the map. “This project is the largest yet that we will develop in a single phase. It will put us to the test in every way possible. But I am confident that we are ready for this. In fact, we will have a dedicated team working full time on this project.”
Are you tempted to go international? It is only natural that the tower will also become a familiar concept internationally, says Huts. “In terms of industrial economics, Katoen Natie is an international company established in forty countries. We also have ambitions with The Phoebus Foundation to join the world’s top names, such as Museo Thyssen- Bornemisza in Madrid. It’s quite a challenge, but that’s what stimulates us to build a monument that is entirely future-proof.”