A banquet hall for Antwerp
At the end of the 19th century, Alex Van Mechelen, the City Architect of Antwerp, was asked to create a large banquet and exhibition hall in the heart of the city. After investing 400,000 Belgian francs in a project involving eight years of hard work, the Antwerp Stadsfeestzaal opened on 22 June 1907 and was inaugurated on 8 February 1908. From then on, it was used for all kinds of festivities: exhibitions, trade fairs, balls, school parties, visits by Saint Nicholas, etc. In 1983, the Stadsfeestzaal was officially declared a listed building.
After years of intensive use, municipal authorities thought that the banquet and exhibition hall deserved a new use. As part of the Mercurious Project intended to upgrade Antwerp’s shopping circuit, the City of Antwerp signed a contract with Multi Development in September 2000 for the complete redevelopment of the block of buildings on Meir, Hopland, and Kolveniersstraat, along with the complete restoration and integration of the Stadsfeestzaal.
Fire and reconstruction
In December 2000, a disastrous fire destroyed practically the entire Stadsfeestzaal. The only elements remaining were the steel roof construction, the concrete structure of the historical stairway, and the historical facades of the building. This meant that the redevelopment schedule was greatly delayed and a long process of obtaining all kinds of permits could begin. By the summer of 2004, Multi Development had definitely acquired the entire project for converting the Stadsfeestzaal.
The real work could start in November 2004. Old buildings were torn down and more than 2000 lorries were filled with soil and driven away. Construction workers even discovered the bones of a whale! By the end of 2005, the outer dome had been installed and the precision work could begin: the application of gold leaf to the countless ornaments in the historical main hall. This precise, time-consuming work would take 18 months to complete but would provide the Stadsfeestzaal with its truly spectacular finished look. In October 2007, Shopping Stadsfeestzaal opened as a unique project offering housing, shopping and leisure activities.
When Shopping Stadsfeestzaal was completed, it realised three objectives: the creation of the final element in an enclosed shopping circuit running from Meir, Huidevetterstraat, and Schuttershofstraat to Hopland; the expansion of inner-city housing; and an increase in the number of parking spaces. Yet another goal – and perhaps the most important one of all – was for Shopping Stadsfeestzaal to become a landmark in the city that everyone living in Antwerp could be proud of.