There is a shortage of space in the region’s towns and cities. There is also an increased demand for houses, offices and leisure space in urban centres. But this is coupled with a shortage of plots to provide everything needed and an increased scrutiny on the environmental impact of the construction industry. Which is why high profile fit-outs and refurbishments are becoming more popular across the industry in general.
Duncan Senior, partner at WSB property consultants, has worked on several high profile office projects in Leeds such as Old School, which has been open for almost a year, and Sovereign House, which is due to complete at the end of December. Senior explains that landlords are trying to reinvigorate tired properties by embarking on full strip-outs to remove work that has been undertaken over the course of years and even decades that has reduced the quality of the overall building stock.
He says: “What we’re always trying to do is to avoid creating a ‘vanilla’ product. “Historically, every office building that you went in looked exactly the same. In the case of Sovereign House, we are opening up the floorplate, maximising the height of the floors and increasing that feeling of volume of space. We took the decision to have exposed services to add to that dynamic.
“Sometimes, you will see a contrived ‘de-furbishment’ which will look fashionable but won’t always fit with the style of the building. We’ve found that occupier’s requirements have evolved. These kinds of offices would be pitched at creative and tech type operations, but all sectors are looking to have an office with more character rather than a vanilla box.” Senior suggests that creating more ambitious spaces no longer limits them to any particular market.
Another example in Leeds is that of Park Row House, which is in the midst of a wholescale refurbishment from the ground up to get the office ready for new tenants due to move in by the end of the year. After being acquired by Sumo Digital at the start of the year, video game company, Red Kite Games has been on a recruitment drive and has confirmed that it is due to move to Leeds. The business is set to move into Park Row House, taking two floors in the newly refurbished office.
Jonathan Gale, asset manager for ADAPT Real Estate who advises building owners UKRO, tells Insider: “You have to be able to give the tenant a choice. Not every occupier wants the same type of space. We have contrast within this building. The fourth and fifth floors have been given different styles that can be used for a range of purposes. It just so happens that Red Kite Games will take on both.
“We did aim to bring in a company in the forward thinking, creative or tech space and with Red Kite Games that is exactly something that we have achieved. But we didn’t set out to restrict our potential market for that and if a business in the professional services sector wanted to look at it, we never would have said no. It’s great we’ve ended up where we’ve ended up.”
Kinrise operates a number of sites in Manchester, and its 34 Boar Lane office is the company’s first move into the Leeds market. One of the more high profile offices coming onto the market this year, 34 Boar Lane sits in the centre of the city.
The building itself has been extended to the rear to create larger floors and given glass curtain walling to increase the amount of natural light. Once complete, the refurbishment will have created 46,000 sq ft of office space and a further 10,000 sq ft of retail, restaurant and café area.
George Haddo, co-founder and director of Kinrise, tells Insider: “What we try and do is buy buildings in the centre of cities that have character and that are close to transport links, and 34 Boar Lane completely fits the bill. The building has an historic facade, unique concrete and a fantastic ground floor presence that we’ll use as an ‘activation space’ of a cafe and restaurant.
“What attracts us to refurbishment projects is the speed of delivery. In other cities, we’ve managed to buy, refurbish and fully let a building before a ground-up development even begins on site.
“From an environmental perspective as well, it’s counterproductive to knock down a building and build a new one, even if the new one’s zero carbon, because it can take 20 years to get back into credit.”
Kinrise’s design principles take into account the original purpose of the building without tacking on anything deemed to be ‘fake’ or not appropriate for the building’s age and character.
Sam Lawson-Johnston, co-founder at Kinrise, adds: “We care about what the building was designed as originally. Wherever possible we will take a building back to what it had been designed as. “In 34 Boar Lane, the amazing concrete ceiling had been covered by a dropped ceiling and we didn’t want to cover that up. We want to reveal the history and avoid anything inauthentic, to make our spaces true to the building.”
High profile refurbishment projects are not just focused on office properties, though the sector does lend itself nicely to constant regeneration. The residential and retail sectors utilise similar techniques to cater to a changing market that might want to find something with more character than a new-build home or a generic shopping experience.
Danum House, in Doncaster, was officially opened in September this year after a £9.3m investment from Empire Property Concepts. The property development company bought the building in the half of 2016 and has converted the 1930s Art Deco building into 78 one, two, and three-bedroom luxury apartments.
Paul Rothwell, managing director of Empire Property Concepts, says: “This building was a big challenge. The shape and nature of the building, with it being Grade II listed, meant that there were hurdles to overcome, and we probably didn’t know what we were letting ourselves in for.
“We knew that we couldn’t touch the facade and had to work within the building’s existing parameters. We did struggle with the separation between the apartments and at the design stage, we decided to create an internal/external balcony. Some of the apartments have a garden room or conservatory, which is a creative response to that kind of challenge.”
Rothwell explains that people are attracted to its features and want to live in a space that offers something unique. Ensuring adequate amounts of natural light also proved a challenge and Empire created a ‘borrowed light’ solution, ensuring that the apartments deeper into the building still feel airy.
In the retail space, Town Centre Securities has refurbished a lot of its old stock, including Merrion House and the Merrion Centre, some of its very first investments in Leeds. With the retail sector going through some difficult times, the pressure was on to maintain the Merrion Centre’s reputation as an essential part of the city’s retail and leisure offering but without flattening the building and starting again.
Helen Green, associate director of estates at Town Centre Securities, says: “The Merrion Centre is unique in that it was conceived, built, owned, managed and refurbished by one business and has been for more than 55 years now. Many owners would have taken a demolition ball to the whole lot, but keeping the centre open and functioning is the best solution both in terms of sustainability and keeping the whole centre functioning.
“It is the ultimate sustainable way forward. But also, this is a large and complex centre with a particular place in the history of Town Centre Securities so we wouldn’t want to demolish it. A phased refurbishment is more complicated, but it enables the centre to continue to function and thrive.”