Ghent’s old harbour coming back to life following renovations


The second in a three-part renovation project of the former harbour’s cotton sheds has just completed, and the developer looks forward to neighbourhood revival

New neighbourhood on the way

Renovation work has finished on a 19th-century cotton shed in Ghent’s Voorhaven, the former port area to the north of city’s historic centre. The Loods 23 project has turned the vast waterside warehouse into 24 apartments and space for 16 companies.

Back in the 1980s, city authorities started to demolish the industrial buildings in the Voorhaven, which is part of Ghent’s Muide-Meulestede neighbourhood. This was when developer Dirk Valvekens stepped in and began negotiations to save three of the remaining cotton sheds.

“It was always my ambition to bring economic activity to the Muide again,” Valvekens said. “The city had written off this neighbourhood and let it degenerate. I was convinced that we could give the 19th century warehouses and sheds a new future.”

The value of the cotton sheds was confirmed when they were awarded protected status as historic monuments in the late 1990s, along with the whole of the Voorhaven. But giving them a new lease of life has taken longer than Valvekens expected. “It has taken more than 25 years, but today we are proud of the results.”

Soon we’ll be attracting a local supermarket and some restaurants

- Developer Dirk Valvekens

The first of his sheds to be redeveloped, Loods 22, was completed in 2010. Loods 23 (pictured) is now reaching completion, with a party planned this weekend to mark the end of building work. The process to renovate Loods 20 will soon get under way with an application for planning permission.

Meanwhile, the Voorhaven has started to come back to life. It is proving popular with people looking for a quiet place to live, and creative companies are moving in. These include architects, photographers, communication and marketing companies, and game and software developers.

“You have to create a certain critical mass,” Valvekens explained, setting out his broader ambitions for the neighbourhood. “Soon we will be able to attract a local supermarket and some restaurants. But there must also be room for sufficient open space and green space.”