In an effort to draw people back to Brussels' European Quarter, the City and the Buildings Agency are opening 'StamEuropa' in a previously vacant building, hoping to bring together all kinds of people.
StamEuropa is located in the heart of the European district, at Rue d'Arlon 104, a building that remained vacant for 16 years, and will now be turned into a place for workshops and conferences of all kinds of organisations to give the neighbourhood "a new, innovative and participatory dimension."
"It has long been established that the European district is fairly monofunctional," Ans Persoons, Brussels alderman for urban planning and public space, told The Brussels Times.
"This way, the city is trying to encourage owners who do not have a concrete plan for their building yet, or have to wait too long for certain renovation works, not to leave it empty," she added.
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The building can be used by organisations or associations in a temporary way, allowing for cultural or social spaces, or even social housing to be installed.
"It could be anything, but we do want to try to encourage owners not to leave their buildings empty," Persoons added. "We also think that an initiative like StamEuropa – a space for drinks, dialogues, and debates – really has its place here."
The organisation aims to provide a space for different groups of people to meet to talk about the future of the neighbourhood, but also about the future of European democracy, "and what better place to do so than in the European Quarter."
The Public Buildings Administration (PBA), which has owned the building for 16 years, has not yet determined a final destination for it, says Administrator General Laurent Vrijdaghs.
"That is why we decided to work together with the Fonds Europese Wijk (a business fund within the King Baudouin Foundation) and the City of Brussels to find a temporary use for the ground floor and the 2nd and 3rd floors in anticipation of a possible future sale," he said in a press release. "It is a win-win situation."
Persoons explained that owners who hold vacant buildings pay a high vacancy tax to the city of Brussels, but a new agreement between the city and the PBA means that these taxes do not have to be paid for the floors that are in temporary use.
"We hope that this will have a stimulating effect, and we do notice that more and more owners are open to such a temporary use," she said. "We definitely think that is a very positive development."
Temporary use should become the norm, primarily for vacant buildings that are in public ownership, which should set a good example, Persoons stressed.
The mayor of Brussels, Philippe Close, agrees and stated that he hopes that the success of StamEuropa will convince other owners to follow suit. "This cooperation proves once again that the vacancy tax is a particularly effective incentive."