Denise Schimmel: ‘SugarCity is alive with history; you can almost smell the sugar’
In just two years’ time, the former factory has developed into one of the country’s most exciting event venues
It seemed like it was only recently that we were last at SugarFactory, where we were overwhelmed by its spectacular event spaces during a guided tour. Upon our return a few months later, everything has changed again. There are new break-out rooms, a lifting platform has been added to the Middenfabriek so that cars can be transported to all floors, and a whole new floor has been opened to host events. Denise Schimmel shows us around and explains the ambitions of this visionary event venue.
SugarFactory opened for business in 2014, housed in the former sugar factory in Halfweg. In just two years’ time, it has flourished into one of the most exciting venues on today’s event scene. A total of 21,000 m2 of industrial heritage has been prepared for use, of which ‘only’ 10,000 m2 – consisting of both small and large venues – is currently being used. The rest of the halls are anxiously awaiting their chance to be put into action.
Denise has been involved with SugarCity since 2013, when she was brought on board to offer her expertise when thinking about the future of the industrial monument. ‘If you ask me, the event industry is people business. It’s all about hospitality, about doing your utmost to please people and listening to client’s wishes. And that is exactly what SugarFactory advocates. We want to provide clients with the best possible service. We ensure that the fundamentals are outstanding, but if they want it, they have a lot of freedom here. They can use their own suppliers, that’s no problem at all. Our team is here to offer support; we all have experience in the event sector which means that we can offer valuable input. This is how we move beyond simply providing a venue rental service’.
What did SugarFactory look like when you first visited?
‘There was nothing here when I started. It was dirty, dusty and wet. There was an old tiled floor that was so uneven that you couldn’t even balance a table on it. But what did immediately strike me was the height and various spectacular floors. We’ve thankfully been able to retain that raw, rugged character. Luigi Prins, the owner of the complex, always says: if you even think of grabbing a paintbrush, you can find your own way out. We used the profits from the initial parties and small events to lay a new floor. And in 2014, SugarCity hosted its first really major event – the SuperTrash Show’.
In a little under two years, further technical improvements were made to the old sugar factory, with safety also being given a high priority. First to receive the treatment was the ground floor of the Middenfabriek, the most characteristic space with its atriums and the x-shaped stairwells that draw your gaze upwards to the gigantic coppers. Then came the Pulppersloods and the Binnenstraat, which links the two other spaces. The first floor of the Middenfabriek was recently also made ready for use, resulting in the addition of a balustrade. The new applications offered by this balustrade featured prominently in The Battle rounds of The Voice of Holland, allowing the audience to look down on the stage from up high.
What can we look forward to from SugarCity in the year ahead?
‘We respond to market demands. That means that our focus in the coming period will also be on smaller groups. The first floor alone can accommodate meetings for between 100 and 300 people. And contrary to what you might think, you don’t need that much in terms of decor. You can accomplish a lot with effective technology and lighting. For example: photographs, films and ambient images that we project onto the rugged walls, such as snowflakes swirling to the floor.
‘We want to make increasingly wider use of the first floor with the balustrade. A second balustrade will be completed next year, and we’re building a VIP deck on the fourth floor. That’ll become a ‘glass house’, offering organisers an outstanding overview of the entire event from high up in the factory hall. An increasing number of car manufacturers are discovering us. Especially to accommodate them, we’ve installed a car lifting platform that we can use to lift cars, trucks and other heavy objects to the various floors.
‘We’re also going to install permanent technical equipment and high-quality lighting in the Binnenstraat, to make it a ‘plug & play’ venue. You could view it as an entry level venue that makes SugarCity even more accessible to smaller groups. We’ll then also be able to welcome 100 guests, what normally entails high costs’.
You’re clearly making great progress. But when you think of SugarCity, it’s still large events that immediately spring to mind.
‘SugarCity is naturally also a location with the capacity to host major events. We can easily accommodate 2,500 visitors, both in terms of safety and traffic. SugarCity benefits from outstanding accessibility, and you could even say that it has a dedicated train station right in front of the complex. We also work very closely with the municipality and meet every month, which means that we can move quickly and soon know what is possible, and what is not.
‘SugarCity’s various venues can be easily used in combination, making the location ideal for public events. That’s another area in which we are keen to develop further. Last year, we hosted the Culy Food Festival, a completely new concept. And this year, we’ll be hosting another new concept – a design fair with enormous international appeal.
‘Denise shows us a film, a compilation of major (international) events and television programmes held and recorded at the event venue. The film shows a string of spectacular events, each and every one wonderfully highlighting the raw, industrial character of SugarCity. ‘Leading international agencies are increasingly turning to us, recognising us as an alternative to renowned locations such as Berlin and New York. SugarCity has the same allure, that feeling that you get when you step inside… And it offers fantastic accessibility, just a stone’s throw away from Amsterdam. There is plenty of hotel accommodation in the area, and a hotel will even be added to the SugarCity complex in the near future’.
How would you describe the feeling when you step inside?
‘It’s something I see when people come here for the first time. When I turn on the lights and see them take it all in: “Wow, that something like this is here, at this location”. The building is alive with history; you can almost smell the sugar. It’s great that we have been able to give it a second lease of life, because that’s what the factory truly deserves’.