The Leader Magazine

SEP-OCT 2015

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What can other urban centers around the globe learn from the King's Cross redevelopment? We have had people from all over the world visit, from the United States and South America, to Europe and Scandinavia, to China and the Middle East. People tell us that it is one of the most successful models of large-scale, city center redevelopment they have come across. I think that the whole approach, from masterplan and mix of uses, to design and deal structuring, are the main takeaways for people who come to visit. An article published recently by the Urban Land Institute stated that because local governments in the U.S. don't have the bandwidth to handle issues facing urban areas—issues related to space planning and the utilization and distribution of resources—it's up to real estate to address those issues. Do you agree or disagree, and why? Absolutely agree – it is the same in the U.K. With limited resources, the government sector should focus on implementing the key strategic moves that help an area to attract investment or remove barriers to entry, be it infrastructure delivery, enterprise zoning, incentives etc. Developers and the corporate real estate (CRE) fraternity can then use their skills to create attractive new places that foster job creation and economic development. When we started looking at King's Cross it had major challenges in a lot of areas; now it is celebrated. Google's U.K. office is slated to move to King's Cross in 2016; the Guardian newspaper's headquarters are already located there. Any predictions about what the redevelopment will mean in terms of jobs, investment and further development? There is great momentum. When it's finished there will be about 30,000 people living and working on the scheme and millions more there to eat, drink, shop and even to just hang out with friends or family in our parks and squares. It's a major success story for the local government and we can already see the positive effects it is having on the surrounding area. K ing's Cross is an 8,000,000-sq.ft., multi-phase, mixed-use development in Central London. It is the largest area of land to be developed in Central London in 150 years. Masterplanning by development company Argent started in 2001, with planning permission finally being granted in 2006. The process required the collaboration of the local and national government to update their planning (zoning) policies, and efforts to win the buy-in of several heritage and conservation entities. Within the scheme there are a number of historic buildings with special protected status that have been refurbished and brought into re-use, including The Granary, now home to Central St. Martins School of Art and Design, the foremost fashion college in the U.K., and the Gasholders, iconic gasworks being converted to residential use. The result has been to turn old and under-utilized industrial land into one of the new prime areas for real estate in London. Will Colthorpe, Senior Project Director for Argent, talks to the LEADER about this historic redevelopment and what it means for the City of London. How does the King's Cross redevelopment compare in scale to other such projects in the City of London? With 50 buildings on the scheme across 67 acres of land, this is the largest in Central London. Other mixed-use development areas that start to come close in scale are Brent Cross, which is currently in the early stages of masterplanning and also the areas around the Olympic Park in East London. What is the status of the project? Is it on track and on-budget? Work on this site started in 2007 and is currently expected to be complete in 2020. Despite having a major financial crisis soon after work onsite began, we are still a year ahead of where we expected to be against our original business plan. The U.K. real estate market has been heating up over the past two years and values have been rising but so have construction costs. One of the key challenges the whole London market faces is controlling costs. We are managing to do that but it requires us to think more strategically and always have a 'Plan B'. What are some of the challenges you faced at various phases of this redevelopment, and how have you overcome them? The major challenge was how to maintain momentum in a financial downturn. As schemes across the U.K. were put on hold, we had to rethink our approach. Luckily, we had the equity available to us to keep moving the major infrastructure (the roads, utilities and new roads) forward and allow us to close the initial deals with our commercial occupiers. As a company, Argent specializes in long-term, mixed-use developments and as a result we make sure our deals and business plans have the flexibility to adapt and survive a downturn. That is probably the key lesson learned. Pancras Square, King's Cross Will Colthorpe September/October 2015 | the LEADER 27

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