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Whenever minister-president Kris Peeters CD&V and viceminister-president Geert Bourgeois N-VA speak at the same press conference the Flemish government most certainly must be very proud and happy. One such event was the unveiling yesterday of the scale model of a multifunctional congress centre in the revamped Queen Elisabeth Hall in Antwerp presented in the stunning marble hall of the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp KMDA, better known as The Zoo. The satisfied appearance of both ministers may be due to the fact that after a long and arduous journey the project is finally ready for rollout. The Flemish government earmarked 57.2 million euros for the profound renovation as early as 2002. It was only in 2009 when the architectural firm Ian Simpson from Manchester eventually won the contract. The acoustics of the concert hall will be handled in partnership with the Chicago-based Kirkegaard Associates. “At the time we thought we would be inaugurating the new complex in 2013,” said KMDA director Dries Herpoelaert yesterday. Unfortunately the project was marred by a succession of unexpected obstacles. First it was established that the design was too much focused on a renovation of the concert hall and failed to meet the specifications of the multifunctional centre that the Flemish government had in mind, serving as a congress centre in addition to a home base for the Philharmonic.Then properties bordering the back of the building had to bought and in the course of 2010 the architect discovered that the Elisabeth Hall was not in a condition to support a renovation, and that the only option was to demolish it and rebuild it from scratch. When the final plans were ready last year, it was 15% over budget and the city architect raised objections against the height of the new building. Following a few changes, the design is now finally ready. During the next few months the current hall and the bordering buildings in Carnot Street will be demolished and next year building will start. At a cost of 70 million euros, the Flemish government’s 57 million euros will be supplemented by 13 million euros from the KMDS’s own funds. The strength of the design is undoubtedly its integration of the old zoo halls with the new building with the use of an atrium that provides ample light with the use of glass. The trump card of the concert hall, which can accommodate between 1 850 and 2 000 people, will be its acoustics. The two congress halls span a surface of 450 and 550 square meters each. Minister Bourgeois, also tasked with the tourism portfolio, plans to use the new complex to strengthen Antwerp’s position as a congress city in view of the fact that Antwerp only receives 430 000. Belgium receives 4 million business people each year of which only 430.000 stay in Antwerp. The city must take a larger share, the minister believes.
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