Nearly 15 months after its original completion date, Ask is putting the finishing touches to No8 First Street. Place North West toured the site to see how the troubled build has finally resulted in Manchester’s newest large-scale office development.
The prominent 173,000 sq ft office, designed by architect Fletcher Priest, is the last piece of the jigsaw for the opening phase of First Street, which has seen the delivery of offices, leisure, a hotel, and a multi-storey car park.
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Delivered by Ask for Patrizia and the Greater Manchester Property Venture Fund, the black-clad building has become a familiar site for motorists driving down Medlock Street, not least due to the delays to the build.
However, appearances can be deceiving: although some snagging works are still ongoing, a large portion of the office has been occupied since the summer by Gazprom Energy, which has 40,000 sq ft over two floors, while engineering consultant WSP, which has 54,000 sq ft, has been in place for the last month.
Place toured the site with Jamie Hills of Ask and Mark Baldwin of GVA, one of the appointed agents alongside Savills.
Hills is quick to admit the build, which has seen two contractors collapse over the last two years, has proven to be “very challenging”, with the scheme now handing over around 15 months after its original practical completion date of September 2017.
The project was already running behind schedule when cladding contractor Lakesmere called in administrators last November; FK Group was drafted in to take over. Problems were compounded when main contractor Carillion collapsed in January 2018, leaving the developer without a construction team.
However, Ask were able to draft in Rayner Rowen to finish the scheme on a construction management basis, with the fund employing the subcontractors direct. Hills said this plan was drawn up in October last year following Carillion’s difficulties, which allowed Rayner Rowen to step in “within weeks”.
At 78% pre-let, the building has proved a lettings success with Odeon on the third floor, WSP on the first and second, and Gazprom Energy on the fifth and part of the sixth.
The fourth floor, adding up to 26,000 sq ft, is still available and offers an impressive column-free floorplate, which Hills and Baldwin said was the largest of its type in the city centre. There is also a further 11,590 sq ft available; this was formerly an option for Gazprom Energy but the company chose not to exercise it.
With quoting rent at under £30/sq ft, Baldwin added the rent was “very competitive for office space of this quality” compared to some of the other available and upcoming sites in Manchester.
Although the build has been difficult, Hills praised the pre-let tenants for their patience and both Gazprom Energy and WSP’s space is impressively decked out; WSP’s is home to around 850 staff which have relocated from the engineering consultancy’s three other offices in Manchester and Salford.
The finishing touches are being put in place in the first quarter of next year with the delivery of the landscaping works around the office. Gazprom Energy, Odeon, and WSP are looking to complete their “winter gardens” around the same time with Gazprom Energy’s set to feature a large spiral staircase linking its two floors together.
There are also two food and beverage units at ground floor, both of which are under offer to undisclosed operators, although Hills said these were likely to “complement, not compete with” the food offering at the wider First Street site which includes Tiffin Room, Wood, Pizza Express, and Bunny Jackson’s.
This food and beverage offering plus the sheer numbers of staff now working in the area – Hills estimated this as more than 3,000 when both offices, the hotel, and the leisure are taken into account – has contributed to a “critical mass”, which Hills said has helped Ask to bring forward the next phase of First Street.
This features four plots to the rear of No8 with the potential for four commercial buildings. The first of these, set to be built by Bam, is a 17-storey mixed hotel and office. This features 160,000 sq ft of offices on the lower 11 floors plus a 205-bed hotel on the top six levels. An undisclosed operator has been secured for this part of the building.
The next phase has the potential to house up to 347,000 sq ft of commercial space, marking out First Street as one of Manchester’s growing commercial clusters.
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