Council to approve Sharp Project 2.0

Proposals to buy One Central Park as an expansion of the Sharp Project and to install a major 3D technology company's European HQ with 240 staff are among ambitious plans to be discussed by Manchester City Council's executive this week.

One Central Park is a 100,000 sq ft office building completed in 2005 in Northampton Road, as part of the business park developed by Ask and Goodman. Central Park in east Manchester is next door to the Sharp Project, which completed in 2011.

One Central Park's freehold is owned by the Homes & Communities Agency. The council owns a 250-year lease on the building but the effective landlord is One Central Park Limited, a special vehicle controlled by Manchester College, Manchester University, Salford University, Manchester Metropolitan University and Manchester Science Parks. The council will buy the building from the special vehicle landlord. No sum was given.

The council's executive report said the acquisition 'will be underpinned by a letting to a global interactive 3D technology company who will establish their European headquarters in Manchester as part of their expansion plans and entry into the European market.' The identity of the inward investor was not disclosed and referred to only as Project E.

OCP will become part of the Sharp Project estate. The council's investment is part of a bold set of proposals aimed at establishing a 'digital content ecosystem' in the city, contained in a 17-page report due to go to council executive on Wednesday. Also proposed are:

  • £1.5m improvements on first Sharp Project building in Oldham Road, to attract and retain tenants
  • Convert computer halls at former Fujitsu building in Wenlock Way, West Gorton to drama stages and associated production offices
  • 20,000 sq ft lease close to being agreed with date centre operator on a 15-year lease on remaining warehouse space at Sharp Project
  • Create a 'green screen' for producing computerised special effects for film, discussions with UK film company ongoing for five-year lease. Manchester currently does not have a green screen. Operator could create 150 jobs

The executive report, written by chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein, calls for the proposals to be approve urgently.

Sir Richard Leese, leader of the council, said: "The Sharp Project has been phenomenally successful and we have created a significant digital production hub that can support the development of the city's digital and production sector and put us firmly on the global map. The potential for further growth is huge and in order to tap into this, we recognise that we need to expand the facilities further to grow local Manchester businesses and also attract major international companies in this sector to Manchester."

Sue Woodward, director of the Sharp Project, said: "Manchester aims to be a global digital city with a labour pool of companies creating and innovating new business and new business models, to grow the economy, create careers and compete on a wider stage. The Sharp Project is the first space created to begin to deliver this objective. It's fantastic that Manchester City Council share our vision and recognise it's a worthy investment. Manchester City Council created the Sharp Project which is unique as it's led by the sector for the sector. This is the secret of its success."

The 200,000 sq ft Sharp Project is 75% full, home to 50 companies, and created 287 full-time equivalent jobs by the end of its first full year of operation.

The £16.5m development is owned by Manchester City Council, which provided funding along with the North West Development Agency and the European Regional Development Fund.

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Fantastic news for Manchester. A great example of a Local Authority doing what it should do to bring new investment in to Manchester. Nice one Sue.

By atul