Parent, soldier, developer, philanthropist: the four sides to Gerald Grosvenor, the late Duke of Westminster, were tied intimately to his relationship with Liverpool and led ultimately to his development of Liverpool ONE, writes Peter Hynd, chairman of Promenade Estates and Ion Development.
The scheme is rightly recognised as the single most influential property investment in the city’s modern history, re-casting Liverpool as a thriving leisure and tourism destination and providing an anchor-point for multiple developments and investments since.
It catapulted the city from seventeenth to fifth in the UK’s retail hierarchy and, in transforming 43 acres of the city centre, turbo-charged an already motoring tourism and convention sector. Since 2008, when the 1.6m sq ft scheme opened, Liverpool’s city centre hotel stock has mushroomed from 3,481 rooms to 8,131 – and there are many more in the pipeline. With occupancy of 82%, it’s no wonder.
The city now ranks in the top four of visitor destinations in the UK and was revealed only last month to be the UK’s most talked-about city on social media. If ever there was a case study of the beneficial ripple-effect of regeneration, it would be Liverpool ONE.
It could only have come about because of the Duke’s unique relationship with the city and the understanding this gave him of the scale of the opportunity.
As head of Britain’s reserve forces he made frequent visits to the Territorial Army’s base in Bootle and he came to know the city and its people intimately as a result. Collecting his children from nightclubs in the city at 2am kept him abreast of its booming leisure economy, whilst simultaneously illustrating how much else around it was failing.
But he saw positive changes. Our own 600,000 sq ft regeneration of Queen Square demonstrated that large-scale, institutional-quality development could succeed in the city and he took heart from this, I’m told, pulling a team together that was capable of delivering on his and the council’s impressive vision.
Huge credit is due to the way BDP’s masterplan knitted together the city by utilising its old street pattern, partly-obscured thanks to the attentions of the Luftwaffe so many years earlier. Theirs remains the only masterplan ever to be nominated for the Stirling Prize, and rightly so.
It was the Duke’s misfortune – and Liverpool’s great luck – that he delivered the project in the teeth of a recession, requiring him to underwrite the development to the tune of several hundred million pounds, which he did so willingly. He could so easily have called a halt and his commitment to seeing the job through remains the greatest single act of philanthropy in Liverpool’s modern history, for which he deserves enormous credit.
Our city is forever in his debt and I quietly doff my cap every time I stroll through his magnificent legacy. I would encourage all Liverpudlians to do likewise.
As a new decade nears, throughout December Place North West will be publishing views from the property industry on the best buildings completed between 2000 and 2019, highlighting the design and development successes of the past 20 years.
To take part in the series, email firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestion for the best North West building of the 2000s, and a member of the editorial team will be in touch.