How important are historic buildings to a city? Manchester in particular is amid a new development boom – it’s a fairly safe bet that any walk around town you do at lunchtime has been disrupted by the second city crossing works over the last year or so. You’ll have noticed some imposing new buildings taking shape too – XYZ Building at Spinningfields, 101 Embankment, 2 St Peter’s Square.
New buildings are great for cities, they get people excited and provide a home for the major corporates that tend to cluster in brand new Grade A space – Big Four accountancies, international energy giants, Magic Circle law firms. But much of what we do as property consultants is concerned with constantly improving the existing built environment of the city – those period buildings that feel like part of the fittings. Although they might not make the cover of the city’s next marketing brochure, they actually have a lot more relevance to 90% of people. In many ways, the quality and variety of a city’s older buildings is what makes its market work.
The older buildings give the market depth, visual distinction and genuine choice. They tell a tale of the city’s development, from the oldest cotton warehouses and mills, through to the Victorian and Edwardian era offices, right through to post-war modernist buildings that seem to be gaining respect among a new generation.
People couldn’t be more wrong if they think that a building that looks old from the outside can’t be modern inside – some of the most futuristic, inspiring workspace designs our team have delivered have come in older buildings. There are challenges, but often, the space you’ve got to work with can be more generous, and there are heritage elements that can become a real feature.
Different offices appeal to different people – it depends on what you need from an office. For smaller boutique firms, quality is all. Location can be important. If you have a lot of people through the door for training or seminars, you need meeting space, or access to shared facilities.
There are a host of great buildings where we’ve been involved in moving businesses, from Churchgate & Lee in the old cotton corridor of Oxford Road / Whitworth Street to Sevendale House in the Northern Quarter. Equally important as these large buildings are those that aren’t always obvious from street level, because they’re in parts of the city teeming with retail and leisure at ground floor – the likes of 26 Cross Street and Acresfield off St Ann’s Square.
The good news for Manchester is that there are plenty of excellent spaces in this type of atmospheric setting coming to the market, with LJ Partnership bringing forward an estate of glorious buildings around Albert Square. Boultbee Brooks is also busy with a portfolio in Mosley Street and Brown Street.
The important message is that people shouldn’t get too hung up when property agents talk about a critical shortage of Grade A space. The reality is that for the vast majority of businesses, there are usually good options on the table, at all price points. Then, every time a firm moves into the shiny new space, it leaves an empty office in need of refurbishment. And so it begins again. www.obiproperty.co.uk