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Biologist moves heaven and earth
The work of a lifetime. There's no better way to describe the realisations of Locus Developments. Since biologists Dirk Valvekens (55) and Ann Van Gysel (53) developed an interest in the rusty sheds and empty warehouses of De Muide, they have moved heaven and earth to revitalise the once so lively neighbourhood in the former heart of the Ghent cotton industry.
This large-scale renovation project also fits in with their vision of living in the city in a comfortable yet ecological way. The scarce open space in the countryside will not be impacted further by the project. This is the story of a biologist who got bitten by the renovation bug...
Love at first sight
It all started with the search for a loft in the 1990s. "When we saw the empty warehouses in De Muide, we immediately knew we wanted to live here," says Ann. At that time, De Muide was still considered a rather poor neighbourhood in the centre of Ghent where you really did not want to live, but we immediately fell in love with this area and its rich history.
Dirk had a clear vision. Living in an industrial building was already commonplace in cities such as New York and London at that time. Lofts were a real hype in these cities. Dirk bolstered his courage and entered into lengthy consultations with the harbour master and the Ghent city council. The city did not share our vision at first. The bank thought this was a crazy idea. They told us to buy a townhouse and turn it into student accommodation as this would be a good investment."
"In the blink of an eye, we get valuable financial advice from and access to a wealth of expertise provided by Titeca Accountancy."
From shed to loft, from biologist to property developer
Ann and Dirk persevered and bought two large warehouses and three sheds. "The city of Ghent actually wanted to demolish two of these sheds. After several years of negotiations Dirk finally managed to acquire the buildings. He hired an architect and turned from a biologist into a property developer." As the entire site has been protected as a cityscape since 1996, the negotiations concerning the development and layout of the sheds took no less than twelve years.
Boosting biotechnical communication
While Dirk focuses on his life's work through Locus Development, Ann is at the helm of Turnstone Communications, an agency specialising in science communication.
"After my PhD, I started working at the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology as communication manager. Afterwards I established an agency to boost the communication of biotech companies. Biotechnology is booming and Belgium enjoys worldwide renown in this field. I furthermore support Locus Development in my capacity as communication officer."
Rusty shells turn into ecological lofts
The head office of both countries is located directly across Sheds 22 and 23. Shed 22 is completely ready and work is currently proceeding on the layout of Shed 23, which will feature spacious yet ecological residential and office lofts. Final delivery is scheduled for late 2019.
"It is simply amazing to see the rusty shells of the former cotton sheds turn into offices and lofts where people can work and live in a pleasant and comfortable manner in a charming urban area. These projects enable us to offer a sustainable alternative for detached houses with a large garden in the countryside. You can also enjoy a spacious and bright home in the city. Our planet is under tremendous pressure. That is why Locus Development has deliberately focused on renovating and building urban buildings instead of developing open land in rural areas for over 25 years. A lot of attention is also paid to sustainable energy through solar panels and possibly geothermal energy."
Locus Development and Titeca Accountancy have shared an interwoven history for many years.
“Bram Cornelis, partner at Titeca Accountancy and office manager for the branch offices in Ghent and Merelbeke, is a former employee of Locus Development. Dirk encouraged Bram to go into self-employment. After setting up his own business in the Ghent region, Bram took care of our accounts. He has continued to do so after the merger with Titeca Accountancy. The transition to Titeca Accountancy has meant a great deal to us: in the blink of an eye, we get valuable financial advice from and access to a wealth of expertise provided by Titeca Accountancy. Bram and his team really think along with us, and they were an indispensable ally in setting up our businesses."
"Until recently, we worked together with a notary public for the issue of bond loans to provide additional capital for our projects. We now issue a new bond loan with full guidance from Titeca."
Persevering towards a green future
Locus Development still has sufficient plans for the future. "One of the following projects is shed 20, where Dirk wants to provide smaller residential units. Comfortable and well-finished down to the smallest detail but with a more favourable price tag. The use of common areas such as a spacious patio, shared workplaces, communal laundry facilities and an open lounge for the owners and their guests enables us to create a spacious feeling here as well.
"Bram and his team really think along with us, and they were an indispensable ally in setting up our businesses."