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Wintercircus Ghent: a new urban hotspot

  • 04 July 2022

The previously abandoned Wintercircus in Ghent, in Belgium’s Flemish Region, has been transformed into a hub for culture, entrepreneurship and innovation by an EU-funded project. With total floor space of over 6 000 m², it will house an underground concert hall with 500 seats and 4 350 m² of co-working and office facilities for creative and technology start-ups and scale-ups. The 1 200 m² former circus arena forms the centrepiece of the structure, which also contains a café, a restaurant, a terrace bar and a shop.

'From 2023, the building should become the new hotspot of our city. The imposing central square, accessible via three entrances, becomes the beating heart. There is also space for a café, restaurant, shop and offices for digital innovation companies.'

Sami Souguir, Alderman of Urban Development and chairman Sogent

Spaces for public use include meeting rooms and a studio where the stables once were, a conference room on the site of the stage, and a lounge in the area previously occupied by the oil-change pits of the old garage – which the building was used as after the circus closed.

A new entrance on Miriam Makebaplein has been added to the existing entrances on Lammerstraat and Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat. From Lammerstraat, visitors enter through the renovated former car showroom, while ramps in the building have been modified to provide access to Platteberg.

A leisure venue

Built in 1885, the Wintercircus hosted circuses and theatre performances all year round until it was ravaged by fire in 1920. The few parts of the structure remaining standing were incorporated into the replacement construction, which was completed in 1923.

Conversion into a garage took place shortly after the Second World War. The arena was replaced by a concrete construction with a system of ramps, allowing cars to drive to the top of the building. The garage shut in 1978, and the building served as a classic car depot for the following two decades, after which it was left virtually empty.

Two-phase renovation

Purchased under the auspices of the City of Ghent in 2005, the Wintercircus was earmarked for integration into a large-scale urban renewal project called De Krook. Maintenance was carried out in 2008, and a design contest for the renovation was held in 2011.

In the first phase of the renovation, the foundations were reinforced, sewerage and energy infrastructure was installed, and structural work was done on the underground levels. The second phase covered renovation of the façades, installation of technical equipment and preparation of the public areas and concert hall.

The former arena will be accessible to the public during the day and will host activities such as exhibitions and fairs. Underneath its floor, a carbon-neutral heating system has been installed. This is based on borehole thermal energy storage technology, through which energy is extracted from the soil to cool or heat the building.

Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “Urban renewal project Wintercircus Ghent” is EUR 3 467 480 with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 1 352 317 through the “Flanders” Operational Programme for the 2014-2020 programming period. The investment falls under the priority “Promoting climate change adaptation”.