Resolution Property, the new owner of Great Northern in Manchester, wants to tap into the city's "deep talent pool" and sense of cultural coolness with its redevelopment of the leisure asset.
Resolution acquired Great Northern in October 2013 for £71.1m from Capital & Regional at a yield of 8.75%.
Robert Wolstenholme, director of Resolution Property, told the audience at Invest North West, a Place North West event held at Great Northern, that a wide range of options across all uses was being considered for the collection of heritage and modern buildings off Deansgate.
Former Urban Splash director Nick Johnson and iconic graphic designer Peter Saville have been appointed as consultants by Resolution to advise on the rebranding and repositioning of the site.
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Wolstenholme said he wanted to reflect the zeitgeist of what he called "Manchester's tribes" in the development, citing the BBC North move as one major reason for investing, supported by the rise of the technology sector in the city centre. The success of Shoreditch and Tech City in London could be repeated in Manchester, with Great Northern's heritage rail storage buildings used as a "warehouse of ideas".
Wolstenholme also said major redevelopment of the newer parts of the site such as the cinema to the rear was being considered. The bulk of the income at the site currently comes from the car park operated by NCP and the AMC cinema, but Wolstenholme questioned their suitability to the location. Residential apartments, small office studios and possibly a tall building on the site of the cinema were all up for discussion, he added.
Wolstenholme pointed to the famous High Line re-use of a derelict elevated railway line in New York, and the Chelsea Market makeover in the same city, as examples of the sort of transformation he wanted to see.
Existing occupiers such as Almost Famous and neighbours Trof at Albert Hall, and Revolucion de Cuba were already enhancing footfall and the atmosphere of the area, which "could be 100% prime".
Resolution expects to hold the site for five years during redevelopment before selling it on once completed and occupied.
The London-based investor owned the Printworks in Manchester from 2008 to 2012 when it was sold to Land Securities for £93.9m. Wolstenholme said the acquisition was a "flight to safety" after the credit crunch. Under Resolution's ownership, Printworks went from 7m footfall to 10m a year.
Invest North West was sponsored by Irwin Mitchell, Resolution Property and Great Northern.
Also speaking at the event was Tim Luckman, valuation director at JLL, who said the investment market was heating up in Manchester in recent months, with five major transactions completed in December 2013 alone.
Yields had fallen dramatically from 8.75% in June 2013 to 5.4% by December as the weight of UK and overseas investment cash looking for a home in London began spilling over to the second city of the UK, put off by heated prices in the capital.
Sunlight House sold for £34.5m in January 2014, nearly £10m above its asking price.
Also taking part were panellists Nick Johnson; Matt Jones, director, Santander; James Heather, partner, Argent; Lindsey O'Brien, director, North, KPMG; Robert Game, director, Europa Capital Mezzanine.
Click image below to launch gallery. Photographs by Simon Pendrigh