Antwerp port entrepreneur buys up iconic city office tower

Antwerp port entrepreneur buys up iconic city office tower
Antwerp seen from the river, with the cathedral (left) and the Boerentoren (right). © Arafi/Wikimedia

The iconic Boerentoren, a building that dominates the Antwerp skyline, has been bought by entrepreneur Fernand Huts to turn it into a ‘culture tower’.

The building was constructed between 1929 and 1932, when it was the second tallest building in Europe. It remains second-tallest in Antwerp, after the Cathedral of Our Lady, and has been a protected monument since 1981.

It was bought by the bank now known as KBC in 1930, and was put up for sale by them. The buyer is Fernand Huts, the flamboyant and controversial owner of Katoen Natie, one of the main businesses in the port of Antwerp, and originally a business – as the name suggests – involved in the import and distribution of cotton in Europe.

The company has, since its origins, diversified, and Huts is one of the most influential entrepreneurs in the port.

At the same time as being an entrepreneur, however, he is also a lover of fine things, with his own private museum of a variety of artworks, from 1,000-year-old Coptic textiles to tattooed pigs by the Flemish artist Wim Delvoye.

In 2016 he set up the Phoebus Foundation, which would be supported by 0.5% of the revenue of his multinational business, and invest in cultural projects. That same year, he paid €670,000 to prevent a drawing by Rubens from leaving the country.

The Boerentoren will be a gift to the people of Antwerp, the Flemish and the international visitors,” he said on announcing the sale.

It will be their tower and we aim to open as much of the tower as possible to the public.”

The tower stands, very visibly, at the other end of the shopping street Meir from the central station, and will now, he said, form a new part of the public space – “a real and essential part of urban society and a tower that everyone can be proud of.”

Alan Hope

The Brussels Times

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