How to Occupy a Monument
Let’s say you are very charmed by the colorful buildings that make up our historical capital in Curaçao and the different plantation houses scattered along the island. If you have the chance you would love to live in one of these beauties or you see a business opportunity. So where do you start if you want to occupy a monument?
What dictates your vision?
Sometimes a certain building speaks to your imagination. Maybe you passed it every day on your way to school and you always wondered what it was like inside. Maybe the building is in your family, but getting everyone on board to restore it is proving hard. Whatever the situation, you feel that this specific pile of bricks and mortar deserves some tender loving care.
If this is your situation, your emphasis should be on imagining what exactly you could use the building for – once restored. Can you turn it into apartment units? Would it be ideal for a shop, or office building? Do you want to rent it out, or turn it into your family home? All of these decisions will dictate if you can get the business case together to take this beauty under your wing.
Alternatively, you are more generally interested in living or working in a monument. Maybe you like the idea of living downtown. Maybe you have a business idea that would ideally be ran out of a plantation house. Or maybe you just enjoy the general atmosphere of buildings that have had a life.
In this case, you would start from your needs (living, running an office, manufacturing, retail) and determine for yourself what your basic requirements are in terms of the space. From there you can search more specifically to see what is available on the market.
To buy or to rent
Unless you, your family or company already own a monument, your next choice would be between buying or renting a monument. The advantage of buying is that you built equity and you have more flexibility in customizing the space. Be very mindful when you decide to buy – you take on the moral obligation to maintain and preserve this building for future generations. So while on paper you may be the owner, in a sense your role is more that of the custodian.
The advantage of renting is that your landlord makes sure your building is maintained, all permits are in order and property taxes are paid. You also have more flexibility to move if circumstances dictate so. Here at the Curaçao Monument Foundation it even happens that tenants move between our properties as they want to scale up or down!
Renting a monument
We are totally not biased, but the first place to search for rental properties is of course on this very website, where both commercial and residential properties are offered. The Curaçao Monument Foundation (Stichting Monumentenzorg Curaçao) is currently taking care of over 120 monuments out of approximately 800 monuments total island wide. The concept is simple. The private foundation acquires monuments in disrepair, restores them and then rents them out in order to guarantee continuity of maintenance. The rental income is reinvested completely into the foundation for the benefit of preserving and restoring our shared tangible history.
Besides us, there are a lot of private owners also putting their rental inventory online. This ranges from cozy apartments in the alleyways of Otrobanda to elegant office buildings in Scharloo.
Don’t be afraid to talk to the landlord to see what changes you may make to the property to customize it more to your needs. There are a lot of protections in place, especially on what you can and cannot do on the outside of the building, to make sure that we maintain the historical cityscape that has landed Willemstad on the World Heritage List. However, inside the building you usually have the same freedom to customize as in any other rental property – check this with your landlord.
Buying a monument
You may be in a position to buy a monument (or a unit within a monument) that has already been restored. Through the different real estate offices around the island time and again an opportunity like this will present itself. In this case the sale will go the same as any other real estate sale. However, if you intent to make changes to the building you will be required to request a Monument Permit (monumentenvergunning) and in some cases a Building Permit (bouwvergunning).
If you are looking to invest in Willemstad, visit Invest In Willemstad, for an overview of investment projects available in town. These include both monumental properties as well as regular buildings downtown and even empty lots. You may have a specific building in mind, but don’t know how to reach the owner. You can find out the owner by visiting Domeinbeheer to see if they are willing to sell. It also pays to just drive around and see if there are any ‘for sale by owner’ signs up.
The adventure of restoring your own monument
Among the different organizations that help support the preservation and restoration of our built heritage in Curaçao is the Curaçao Monument Fund Foundation (Stichting Monumentenfonds Curaçao – not to be confused with Stichting Monumentenzorg Curaçao). There you can apply for financing and subsidy to restore your monument. If you are buying a property that needs to be restored, it pays to contact them even before the sale is made, as they also offer guidance and advice for the entire restoration process. You also apply for your monument permit here.
Getting to know your monument
One of the amazing things about occupying a monument is that there is a whole story there to uncover. Most monuments in Curaçao range in age between 150 – 300 years old. They tell a story of adventurers seeking business opportunities in the new world, of wars between European nations, of human trafficking and slavery, of perseverance and resilience. To understand our community and where we are now, the collective stories of all of these buildings can show us how we got here. If we understand these buildings and their makers and occupants throughout the centuries, we can make educated decisions about what drives us now and into the future.
If you want to know more about the building you are occupying one great place to start is the National Archive. In their image database online, you may even come across a century old picture of your building, or see it drawn onto an old island map. You can also find many local publications in the bookstores with accurate historic information and beautiful pictures.