Verloederd Noordwijk should become the spa of yesteryear again

Verloederd Noordwijk should become the spa of yesteryear again

Noordwijkers had not seen the Vuurtorenplein for a long time. The place they had been ashamed of for years, located at the foot of the snow-white lighthouse, suddenly looked beautiful again. A merry-go-round had been placed in the center and the buildings around it had been transformed into boutiques and an ice cream parlor. That was the work of an AVROTROS film crew, who settled on the square last summer. They shot scenes for a television series about the period after the Second World War.

The square hadn’t been so lively in ages, says chip shop owner Ajey Jagbandhan (58). For 21 years, Jagbandhan has been running his cafeteria on the corner of Vuurtorenplein. A bakery, travel agency, bookshop, photo shop, drugstore have disappeared in recent years. And tourism declined. Initially, Jagbandhan had five “rush hours” a day – the first Germans ordered a bouncer at 9 am, the last at midnight. Now it is only busy around dinner time. “There is no chicken here at night.”

Why should it? Tourists have no business here, he says. Only the tourist shop and it are still there, the rest has been nailed up. “It’s totally run down here.”

The Vuurtorenplein is Noordwijk aan Zee in miniature. Behind the beach promenade, many places are past their best before date – but they are still almost exactly as they were in the sixties and seventies. Noordwijk breathes past glory here. It looks more Belgian than Dutch in its messiness. Often, as on the Vuurtorenplein, this is due to the attitude of large real estate entrepreneurs, who only want to sell their very expensive land for the highest price, and would otherwise rather let the place deteriorate.

The municipality believes that this has to change. Long stays on the coast, which Noordwijk traditionally lived on, have been out of the question for decades – and in order to survive and continue to attract visitors, the village has to change. Becoming luxurious again, preferably as a spa, where guests come for a longer period of time to enjoy the sea. Otherwise Noordwijk runs the risk of losing out to other seaside resorts. How do you do that, in a seaside resort where nothing has happened for years and where real estate agents are largely in charge? From Vuurtorenplein to Palaceplein: a walk on Parallel Boulevard through a seaside town trying to overcome an identity crisis.

The Lighthouse Square Photos David van Dam

Parallel Boulevard 302

Alderman Roberto ter Hark (40 years old, VVD) points to a vacant lot at house numbers 302 and 304 in the middle of a row of houses. “There were two hotels there, but they were empty. It didn’t look like that anymore.” They were old beach hotels. Small-scale, each about ten rooms. “You can see that nowadays you often actually need a lot more rooms to get by.”

The demolition of the two hotels is typical of Noordwijk aan Zee – not to be confused with Noordwijk-Binnen further away. Many of the smaller hotels and guest houses have been struggling for years, barely keeping their heads above water. According to an inventory from 2018, the village has about 43 hotels with about 4200 beds in total on the coast. Approximately 500,000 overnight stays are booked per year – compared to 570,000 in 2002. According to an analysis by consultancy firm ZKA, carried out on behalf of the municipality, almost half of the hotels are barely viable. Along the rest of the South Holland coast, accommodations are doing better.

Many of these hotels opened in the decades after the Second World War. Noordwijk was a magnet for tourists. The seaside resort was popular among Dutch and Germans, often of good descent. Guests often stayed there for several weeks. Noordwijk aan Zee was chic. “The inspiring sea air allowed me to . . . enjoy writing in my beach chair,” reported German writer Thomas Mann in 1955 in a letter to his Italian translator.

You can still catch a glimpse of that time on the boulevard. The eye-catchers: Hotels Van Oranje and Grand Hotel Huis Ter Duin, colossal, luxurious complexes on the edge of the dunes. Well-known conference hotels too, where diplomatic delegations like to settle. The highlight was the visit of US President Barack Obama to Huis ter Duin in 2014. Well-to-do families that spend weeks on the European coast have become rare. International and long-distance travel is now available to everyone. A far-away holiday is usually cheaper than two weeks in Noordwijk aan Zee.

Hotel of Orange.Photo David van Dam

In Noordwijk aan Zee, tourists now come for a day, at most a weekend. Noordwijkers call it checking storm radar and jumping in the car. And then: stroll through the Hoofdstraat, dip your toes, get fries and back again.

You won’t get the hotels full with that, and many of them have a hard time. But what is actually the worst is that Noordwijk aan Zee is also doing worse compared to other Dutch seaside resorts. At the beginning of this century, a research bureau already noted that the number of overnight stays in the seaside resort decreased much faster than on the rest of the North Sea coast. And even today, visitors find it relatively difficult to find the town without a station.

That is not surprising: Noordwijk aan Zee has done little in recent decades to be an attractive seaside resort. Many hotels are outdated, and parts of the town are in disrepair: the sidewalks are broken, there are vacancies, and there are several prominent squares that could use a makeover. Moreover, the drainage around the Parallel Boulevard is not sufficient, many places are struggling with groundwater levels that are too high.

It is not made easy for the community. They have been discussing with three real estate developers for years: Bram Mol and Charles de Boer (called the MoBos) and Ronald van de Putte.

Mol and De Boer own Hotels van Oranje and wanted to expand. They wanted to build large, luxurious apartment complexes next to the hotel. They would become so massive that the municipality did not feel like issuing a permit.

At Van de Putte, the problem is on a different level. In Noordwijk aan Zee – and elsewhere in the country such as Leiden, Sluis and Wassenaar – he owns land in central locations. He does not want to sell that land, says the municipality: “And he does not develop either.” Result: wasteland criss-cross through the village. Van de Putte informs by telephone that he does not want to respond to questions from NRC.

Noordwijk aan Zee has in fact been standing still for decades. It somehow still feels like the fashionable seaside resort it used to be, but has meanwhile become its own worst enemy. This was also apparent from a 2018 survey. Hotel entrepreneurs called the public space one of the biggest concerns, especially around the Vuurtorenplein. The luxurious image of the village was lost, they thought.

Jan Kroonsplein

Walking through Noordwijk aan Zee with alderman Ter Hark – pink jacket, white shirt and trousers – is a strange experience. In places that the tourist passes quickly, he actually revives.

The Jan Kroonsplein? The ugliest square in the Netherlands, according to NRC columnist Frits Abrahams. Picturesque fishermen’s houses made way for messy post-modern structures in recent decades. “Not necessarily a nice square,” says Ter Hark.

Enthusiastic: “We want to build houses there in a fisherman’s style, with a wandering area behind it, where you can walk through small streets. There will be homes, apartments, catering shops and a renovated museum.” Some of the homes will be social rent. In the municipality of Noordwijk, 22 percent is social rent, much lower than the national average. Because the land of Jan Kroonsplein is one of the most expensive in the village, the municipality itself contributes money. “Two million euros”, according to Ter Hark.

Noordwijk aan Zee, seaside resort that has an identity
trying to overcome crisis

Ter Hark’s approach is un-Northwijk. He wants to do something with the village. For too long it has been thought that you have to redecorate the entire village in one go “with a big master plan”, he says. That didn’t work. Negotiating with real estate developers is legally complicated and takes a lot of time. It is better to accept that you are powerless in some places and to invest your time and energy in ‘feasible things’, says Ter Hark.

For example, new, golden-yellow tiles along Parallel Boulevard are replacing the broken gravel concrete that is now everywhere. And other stones have to make way for greenery.

The Jan Kroonsplein is being overhauled. The relationship with the Mobos has been restored: Hotels van Oranje may expand after years of negotiations. The apartments of the hotels reach as far as the lighthouse, which was important to the people of Noordwijk. The hotels will have an underground parking garage, freeing up space to build dunes on the old site. And the drainage system of the boulevard is being refurbished, so that cellars are no longer flooded.

There is no other way, he says. Otherwise Noordwijk aan Zee will lose the battle with other seaside resorts. But a spic and span of public space alone is not enough, as Ter Hark knows as a former marketing man for insurance company Achmea. His seaside town needs a story.

The Palace Square Photo David van Dam

That is why Noordwijk aan Zee has increasingly profiled itself as a health resort in recent years. The seawater is relatively clean, the air fresh. Partly because of this, Noordwijk has been “a beneficial seaside resort” since 2020, says the alderman. According to him, this is an international quality mark that Germans in particular pay close attention to.

Thomas Manns Noordwijk aan Zee in a new guise: as in the past, guests should spend more than a day or a weekend in the seaside resort. The spa season is also outside the high season, and ensures better occupancy in relatively quiet times – very welcome if the conference market remains inactive for longer due to the corona crisis.

Palace Square

Ter Hark stands on the edge of a vacant piece of land diagonally opposite the ‘Pallas hole’. The Palace Hotel burned down there in 1978. The square, a large expanse of stone, marks the southern point of Parallel Boulevard, as a counterpart to the Vuurtorenplein on the north side.

The two squares have the same owner: real estate manager Van de Putte. More than forty years after the Palace fire, nothing has yet been developed on this spot, where Noordwijk’s busy Hoofdstraat flows into the dune edge – every visitor passes by.

On the fence of the construction site hangs a artist impression of a Tudor-style apartment complex. “We have issued a building permit for it,” says Ter Hark, “but Van de Putte never made use of it.” The permit has now expired. He has spoken to the real estate man twice by phone, he says. “Those were fine conversations in themselves,” says Ter Hark. “He had a beautiful romantic plan for the square, with beautiful use of materials and colours. But I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

Verloederd Noordwijk should become the spa of yesteryear again
Source link Verloederd Noordwijk should become the spa of yesteryear again

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