General Projects, the company planning a 325,000 sq ft “future-focussed” office campus in Manchester’s Eastlands, is looking for more opportunities to put its stamp on the North West, targeting schemes of upwards of 100,000 sq ft.
Jacob Loftus, founder and chief executive of General Projects told Place North West: “While our immediate focus is on Pollard Street, where we see the opportunity to create something truly unique in the city, we are naturally curious and ambitious and therefore are always open to new opportunities.
“The great cities of the North are incredibly attractive for us as a business. We believe there is significant potential for forward-thinking developers with new ideas – but, as a small, growing team, we are also selective in terms of the projects we progress. Watch this space.”
No talks are ongoing at present to bring any other sites in the North West forward for development, but the company is “keeping its ears to the ground”.
London-headquartered General Projects lodged plans to build a five-building office complex at Pollard Street, New Islington, with Manchester City Council last week.
The company, which specialises in “creative modern marketplaces”, envisages a workspace hub that would bring together around 100 SMEs with larger, blue-chip companies. The scheme, designed by Hawkins\Brown architects, would be located alongside the Ashton Canal and feature more than two acres of public space, 50 newly planted trees and 550 bike spaces.
Pollard Street is the developer’s Manchester debut – and its first project outside London – and is part of a refreshed masterplan for the Eastlands area, where US developer Oak View Group is building an entertainment arena for the city.
General Projects has secured alternative investment firm Angelo Gordon as an equity backer in the £83m scheme – although it declined to reveal how much the US-based firm has invested. The developer has yet to line up loan financing to deliver the scheme and intends to start talks with banks once planning permission is granted.
Ben Cross, development executive at General Projects, told Place North West that Pollard Street is characteristic of the company’s “off-pitch, counter-corporate” approach to office development, although it is unusual in being a new-build scheme.
Most of the firm’s other projects – all in London – have involved repurposing existing buildings, such as Alphabeta, a reworking of the 1920s Triton Court, the former headquarters of the Royal London Insurance company on Finsbury Square, and 242 Marylebone, designed by architect Richard Seifert for retailer Woolworth’s in 1955, among others.
“It is challenging to deliver the kind of projects you want to when land values are high, so realising untapped value is something we put a lot of emphasis on,” Cross said. At Pollard Street, General Projects has agreed a long (100-years-plus) lease with Manchester City Council, but its business model also includes purchasing an occupied building, acting as an asset manager for that property, then bringing forward refurbishment and redevelopment plans while it continues to generate income.
“For us, it’s about critical mass, to enable us to really put our stamp on schemes,” he added. “We are very eager to look at other opportunities in the amazing cities of the North, but because of our philosophy, we are only really looking at schemes of more than 100,000 sq ft.”
Pollard Street represented the culmination of many years of General Projects hunting for the “right opportunity” to build in Manchester – a city Loftus knew and had worked in before in his previous role as head of UK at developer Resolution Property.
“Manchester is very independent, and it has its own spirit,” Cross explained. “Our strategy was to create something very unique, pioneering and respectful to the immediate local area, which has undergone so much transformation in the past 20 years.”
“We didn’t want to build the Spinningfields of this world [targeted at large corporates],” he added. “We wanted to create a comfortable space where homegrown Mancunian small businesses could co-exist with larger, more established companies, with an emphasis on giving back to the local community.”