Westergasfabriek

Mark de Kruijk

Director

Westergasfabriek

Polonceaukade 27, NL – 1014 DA Amsterdam

www.westergasfabriek.nl

Amsterdam, The Netherlands
European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Awards 2010 - Conservation


Redevelopment is a never-ending story





In this article I give a brief overview of The Westergasfabriek. I describe the past, the present, and the near future of this former Gasworks. Besides that I give more insight in the organization, and our business approach. I conclude with a statement about my point of view about the soul of successful redevelopment. During the presentation I will go in further detail about the lessons learned.

More than 100 years of history

The Westergasfabriek (Western Gas Factory) is situated in the western part of Amsterdam, at the former terminal station of the first railroad between Amsterdam and Haarlem. In 1883 it was built as a Gas Factory, by order of the British Imperial Continental Gas Association. Quite unusual was that the factory was designed by the well-known Dutch architect Isaac Gosschalk, who also made the design of several other famous buildings in the Netherlands, for instance the Central Station in Groningen.
Around 1900 the City of Amsterdam took over this company. After this take over there was a serious expansion: two more gasholders were built. Most of the production was used to accommodate Amsterdam households.
In 1959 gas was discovered in the village Slochteren, in the northern part of the Netherlands. Having found this new gas plant, there was no reason to continue the rather complicated and expensive process of gas production anymore at The Westergasfabriek.  So a few years later the factory was shut down. What was left was an immensely polluted site due to the coal and all the chemicals used in the production process.
The local government had no idea what to do with this terrain, so they used it as a place to store all kinds of material. It took about 20 years before the government and local people started making plans about the future. For about 10 years (1990 - 2000) there was a lot of discussion on how to redevelop this place. Main issues: how to clean the site, whether to demolish the old buildings or keep them, and defining what the main purpose for this area should be. Instead of waiting for the outcome the government permitted that the buildings were temporarily used for all kinds of events and festivals during this time. 
Kathhryn Gustafson from the USA was asked to make a grand design with the ambition to keep the buildings, to use the site for cultural events, and to create an environment for people to relax and recreate. First the site was cleaned, redeveloped as a park and reopened for the public in 2003. After that the renovation of the buildings began. In 2007 all the renovation work was finished.
 

THE cultural hotspot of Amsterdam

Nowadays The Westergasfabriek is the cultural hotspot in Amsterdam, with 15.000 square meters in the buildings and 14 acres of outfield. The park is used for recreation but also for large scale outdoor events.
About 20 spaces are occupied by business at The Westergasfabriek: most of them are creative entrepreneurs, such as graphic designers, web and game developers and interactive media producers. There are also two television studios where several national shows are broadcasted daily,  an art house cinema ls"Het Ketelhuis', which plays about ten different movies a day, and the Theater MC, the former Cosmic Theater, with daily programs. Furthermore there are  eight restaurants, terraces, cafes and nightclubs. So in total The Westergasfabriek has a very broad variety of companies somewhere in the field of creative industry, entertainment and IT. Every year about 700.000 people come to The Westergasfabriek: locals, people from greater Amsterdam, but also people from abroad.
Five building (together about one third of the total space, 5.000 square meters) are rented out on a temporary ls"day-to-day' basis. They are used for all kinds of events such as festivals, business meetings, conferences, and so on. In total more than 200 public events take place every year in these old buildings. Although all the locations are unique and characteristic, the most iconic amongst them is the Roundhouse: the former gasholder.
Keep it edgy
One of the main reasons for the success of The Westergasfabriek is the ongoing vigor and variety of activities taking place. What is going on is constantly changing and therefor nobody can also really give a clear definition of what ls"it' is. New ambitions are to build a hotel, to make the whole area a Wifi free zone, to create more space for retail and programming more outdoor activities in cooperation with the local government. But key in all these ambitions and development is: always look for a model of cooperation and collaboration.

Public Private Partnership, ruled in personal way

In 2000 the City of Amsterdam decided to sell the old factory buildings. The main reason: the whole project of cleaning the area, restoration and renovation was too expensive for the municipality. So they had to find a way out. The City of Amsterdam made a clear statement: the new owner has to develop the whole complex with creativity, culture and sustainability as basic fundament. MAB, a real estate developer, bought the buildings and started to make plans for the renovation. But in 2003 Bouwfonds, another real estate developer, took over MAB, and decided not to buy The Westergasfabriek. The family Meijer, shareholders of MAB, kept the buildings as their personal property. And this is still the case today. One of the positive effects of this decision is that The Westergasfabriek is ruled on a human scale and in a personal way.
So The Westergasfabriek is a private company. The company does not get a penny from the government. The yearly cash flow is about Euro 4.5 million. The company has a team of 10 highly skilled professionals. They are very active in the promotion and very eager to get new events to The Westergasfabriek. The company works in very close relation with the local government, who is responsible for the park area. A lot of effort is spent on building a sustainable relation with the City Council and also with a lot of cultural partners in the City, and other venues. And of course The Westergasfabriek keeps in touch with all the different event agencies. It is a people business, so it is very important to have a good relationship with all kinds of partners in and around Amsterdam.

What's next?

To make sure The Westergasfabriek stays a successful hotspot is not so easy. At other places in Amsterdam you can also find similar redevelopment of real estate. And if you are predictable in your events and business, after a while it is "not hot" anymore. It is very important to keep renewing yourself, to keep looking for new movement and being part of that movement. The Westergasfabriek has a unique combination of business, people, events, technology and a huge public space. And, also very important, it is located very close to the city center.
In exploring the future, The Westergasfabriek works together with (international) companies and entrepreneurs. Companies with an open strategy, who are looking for new challenges and who want to be frontrunners.
But, in every step we take we keep in mind that The Westergasfabriek is a peoples place. It is like Amsterdam, where people like to be themselves!