22 July 2014

It's one of the few successful Leeds schemes to emerge from the recent recession.

Now it's about to enjoy a boom thanks to one of the few government-funded projects that escaped the spending axe.

Rod McPhee took a look at why the redeve

Granary Wharfe

A huge part of the city centre renaissance of the last 15 years has centred around the waterfront. But while various riverside developments showed huge promise, they didn't always deliver.

Which is why Granary Wharf is genuinely outstanding. First of all the developers, Isis, actually completed construction which, in the current climate, is an achievement in itself.

And over the past 15 months they've sold or let almost 60 per cent of the residential offering, moved in a prestigious hotel and are rapidly filling the retail units with independent retailers.

Now that's set to take off further as the Government confirms they'll fund a 15m southern entrance from Leeds Station which is due to open in two years time. This will see an estimated 17,000 people pass through the area daily.

"It's fantastic news," says Toby Hyam, co-managing director of Creative Space Management, one of the companies which Isis enlisted to create an individual offering.

"But we always worked on the scheme on the basis that it may or may not happen. We worked on the principle that we wanted to create something individual down there which would attract people to the Wharf, but also serve the needs of the residents.

"So we didn't target the big multinational names, we specifically went for the independents, something that would make it feel special down there. To be fair, the multinationals probably weren't very interested in a scheme as unusual as ours anyway, but we didn't exactly twist their arm to come here either.

"We were very clear about our ideal, whereas with other schemes like Clarence Dock they seemed to have a very confused strategy."

This policy avoided pitfall number one: creating a clone satellite to the city centre. Instead CSM spent months searching out tenants who they felt offered something which would make Granary Wharf a destination.

Ross Halliday and Jon Baldwin are owners of Out of the Woods in nearby Holbeck Urban Village. They are an upmarket venture selling top quality soups, sandwiches and sweets and next month open their second outlet at the wharf.

"It just has a really great feel to it," says Ross. "It's big, but not too big. It's a little bit out of town but not too far out of town. And although its new, they've used a lot of materials like copper and wood which don't make it feel too corporate or clinical.

Jon added: "We also really liked their ethos of targeting only independent businesses and they couldn't have been more helpful and encouraging in bringing us there.

"They also went to a lot of care in who they selected. So it wasn't just about retailers making sure the wharf was right for them, the developers wanted to make sure that the retailers were right for the wharf."

An existing resident is The Hop. Built under the railway arches, it serves food, real ale and live music at weekends.

"We had targets for when we opened," says co-owner Mike Heaton. "But since we launched in March we've taken something like 60 per cent over those targets.

"We feel we've made a success of the business on our own but the location really helped. We're on a bit of a real ale circuit down here because there's quite a few real ale pubs in the area, which really gets people down here. We just knew it would work.

"But more important than that is the fact that they've tried to create almost a village atmosphere at Granary Wharf and by bringing us in we're almost the village pub."

How have they created a village atmosphere? From the start Isis aimed to ensure the lion's share of its residents were owner-occupiers, thus reducing the transient nature of many city living schemes.

Of the 282 apartments split between Candlehouse, the large cylindrical tower, and Waterman's Place, around 160 have either been sold or let.

And of those purchased about 95 per cent are now homes for the buyers.

So both the businesses and the residents feel they have a vested interest in creating some kind of community. Which is why CSM have also been staging numerous events to enhance that ambience.

This summer they staged five markets at the wharf, and held other one-offs ranging from a giant picnic to sheep-shearing contest. All of which brought in an extra 10,000 visitors.

And potential residents seem to like it.

Nina Barker is senior sales consultant for King Sturge, the agency responsible for selling the apartments.

"On one whole side of Waterman's Place we've sold every apartment bar one. Our target by this stage was to have sold about 100 apartments and we've actually completed on 160.

"And with the south entrance to the station getting the go-ahead we think things will really pick up. The trouble at the moment is some people either don't know we're here or don't know quite how to get here but, obviously that will change with the new entrance. And I think its closeness and visibility from the station will be a big benefit."

But the biggest jubilation comes from City Inn, perhaps the jewel in the crown of Granary Wharf. A large chunk of their trade relies on business travellers coming into Leeds Station and spotting the hotel as they approach from London. In two years they'll virtually be able to step off a platform and into the lobby.

Stephen Turner said: "We actually opened late August of last year under very challenging circumstances and although we were nervous, and the first three months were difficult in terms of room sales, we've done very well since.

"And we like to think that as much as we've been a benefit to Granary Wharf, they've been a benefit to us too. It's a great building and a great location down by the canal. Plus, when the south entrance to the station opens it will just be the ideal spot for us."

Perhaps the biggest draw though is their Skylounge which is the highest bar in Leeds and, on a weekend, regularly pulls in 2,500 visitors. That's a lot of trade passing through the wharf.

Tellingly, during the general election campaign in April it was the City Inn which was chosen as a suitable backdrop for a visit by Gordon Brown, who was then Prime Minister. Even more telling was the fact they used the Skylounge balcony as the place to conduct all his TV interviews.

"It must be the best bar in Leeds." says Stephen. "It's very sexy and the views north and south are just amazing. That helped the wharf and City Inn get people down here initially and raise our profile.

"Interestingly it's been such a success that the City Inn group are now building two new hotels, one in London and one in Amsterdam, and both will incorporate a Skylounge. But I'm pleased to say that ours was the first."

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