On July 27, 2018, Marius Meurs says farewell to the Groot Handelsgebouw. In 2005, he became the director of the largest multi-tenant business building in the Netherlands. The Groot Handelsgebouw was almost completely renovated, but in a sad financial state. ‘The rental income fell sharply and the budget was almost empty,’ according to Marius Meurs. Over 12 years later, he looks back on the successful transformation of this national monument.
Initially, Marius was appointed to achieve a quick turnaround. First, get the business back on track and then have a strategic discussion about the future. ‘My goal was to get everything back in order. I have a Calvinistic streak, once I start something, I also finish it. It was simply not my intention to remain this long,’ he laughs.
Marius talks about the appeal of the Groot Handelsgebouw. ‘When I arrived in Rotterdam in 1970, the Weena was still pretty empty. It was a large, grassy plain with a petrol station and a deer camp. A pavilion stood here and there, including the Harbour Jazz Club. The Groot Handelsgebouw presided over the far end of the Weena, next to Central Station. And then to think that 200 entrepreneurs decided collectively they wanted to build that, with their own money. For long after its construction, it remained the largest building in the Netherlands and the largest multi-tenant business building in Europe, and is still a major edifice today. That is really Rotterdam.’
‘Mr. Meurs, the Groot Handelsgebouw helps itself.’
Marius also applied the same mindset to the transformation of this icon of Rotterdam’s redevelopment. ‘For a while, the Groot Handelsgebouw was considered to be lacking an identity. It’s a lovely building, designed by the talented Huig Maaskant. But it had fallen into disrepair. As a result, the building possessed only a literal location, it had lost its figurative place in the city. I hope that I have managed to turn that around, and that Rotterdammers have once again taken the Groot Handelsgebouw to their hearts.’
Trust in resilience
For a number of years now, the Groot Handelsgebouw has been a hotspot for young, innovative and creative entrepreneurs. Together with the more corporate companies and service providers, they virtually form a city within a city. Marius himself travelled to the head offices of potential new tenants to see how they would fit in the Groot Handelsgebouw. He made successful visits to Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) and De Nieuwe Poort, among others. They established their new locations in the Groot Handelsgebouw. ‘At the Groot Handelsgebouw re-opening in 2005, I jokingly asked then mayor Ivo Opstelten if the municipality would now rent space from us. He answered: Mr. Meurs, the Groot Handelsgebouw helps itself. It’s certainly turned out like that.’
Photos by, among others, Eric Fecken, Mark Bolk and Fred Ernst.
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