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Will Lewis – director of OBI Property – on the Northern Quarter’s appeal

It’s not so long ago that Manchester’s Northern Quarter wasn’t really on the radar of office agents in the city. Although the independent retail, pubs and cafes have been a mainstay of the city for years (you’ll regularly see property types eating their own body weight in legendary curry cafe Kabana) and there have always been a few major office buildings, such as Griffin House, the area’s landlords weren’t often looking to use their buildings as offices, and developers were looking elsewhere first. That’s all changed now.

The Northern Quarter has grown up. At the Shudehill end, there was the work done by Muse with the transport interchange, Crowne Plaza Hotel and new residential, while one of Urban Splash’s earlier projects saw the Smithfield Buildings redeveloped. That set the tone. Brookfinch delivered a nice mixed-use project on Back Turner Street, then Argent raised the bar further with the grade A, 80,000 sq ft The Hive, north of Stevenson Square, home to the Arts Council and others. In March, it sold for £17m.

The amount of restaurants and bars flourishing around the square now is no accident, with Slice, PLY, Pie & Ale and old favourites joined by a host of bars clustered around Port and Tariff Streets. Each feeds the other.

Another gem in the area is Sevendale House, one of the best projects OBI has had the pleasure of working on. It’s a beautiful building, with a frontage, atmosphere and original features that make it a genuinely unique offer in the Manchester market and Philip J Davies Holdings, the owners, deserve great credit for its redevelopment.

Since agreeing the deal to bring Ticketmaster to the building (they moved 350 staff to the building in March), social work recruiter Liquid Personnel and creative agency Code Computerlove have signed up, the latter for the 13,100 sq ft fourth floor. The building is 86 per cent let within nine months, which shows the appetite to be in the Northern Quarter.

Manchester’s desire, as expressed in its consultation document for the Manchester Strategy 2016-2025, is to be in the “top flight” of world cities by 2025. This is the age of the city, the document says, where the cities of the future will have a “thriving, buzzy economy with myriad opportunities”. As vital as purely grade A office areas and shiny shopping malls are, cities also need areas where people can express themselves. Cities, by extension, thus establish their own identity.

In a sense, there’s still plenty to go at in the Northern Quarter: plenty of amazing old buildings that might be ripe for reinterpretation. Already things are moving on geographically as well, with a push by food and drink operators out beyond the inner ring road into Ancoats. It’s all good, as they say. Cities need to keep changing, keep moving, keep offering different things. And a wider mix of companies in any area can only ever be a good thing, as I’m sure the operators of all those new pizzerias, craft ale bars and coffee shops would confirm.

www.obiproperty.co.uk

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