Speaking to Place North West in Cannes, Squarestone Growth directors Hugo Denee and Paul Coulter have outlined their plans for expanding the asset manager’s office portfolio across the region.
Currently, Squarestone has £70m of assets in the North West, “so a sizable chunk of our £225m portfolio” according to Denee, including in St Helens, near Manchester Airport, Liverpool and Warrington.
The company was founded out of Scotland in 2014, taking advantage in the dip in property prices during the time of the Scottish referendum. The firm then expanded into London and Manchester, seeing further opportunity particularly after the introduction of permitted development rights for office-to-residential conversions, which Denee said meant “supply was reduced, demand was the same, and there was a chance for re-basing rent.”
Squarestone focuses on office acquisitions, and according to Coulter, they’re looking for “the right Grade B stock” in “places that have a reason to exist, i.e. with good transport links, in business parks, or near key cities and satellite towns in the region.”
The model is “we take neglected buildings, and turn them into something of city centre quality, but at half the rent”.
In the next year, the company has £120m spending power, and “we will do as much as we can in the North West,” said Coulter.
The company looks well placed to take advantage of growth in regional markets, backed by a mix of investors and debt, with support from NFL Mutual, Investec, Barclays, and South African-based entrepreneurs.
In Liverpool, a recent acquisition was 5 Temple Square, which Squarestone bought for £7m in January from Ventnor. Squarestone also acquired the surrounding square as part of the deal, and according to Coulter will be holding an architectural competition to redesign the space, in a £1m project which aims to bring “a bit of cafe culture” to a currently unloved area of public realm.
In Manchester, as well as buildings at Manchester Green and The Royals, Squarestone is soon to relaunch The Lighthouse at Salford Quays. The office was 30% vacant when the fund acquired it, and has since had a £1m refurbishment overseen by Malcolm Hollis, including adding cycling hubs and revamped reception, in part responding to what Denee calls “the WeWork phenomena, where everywhere now you have to really increase the level of amenities.
“We aim to provide the same services you would get in a serviced office, but on a long-term lease.”
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