Malls.com was lucky enough to catch up with Peter Courtney at MAPIC, Cannes, France. Peter is a Director at Lunson Mitchenall and specializes in shopping center development, asset management and leasing.
asked him for his thoughts on London’s new Kings Cross development
that he is currently advising on. We also took the opportunity to
find out about the challenges facing developers in the UK capital and
all about other aspect s of retail in this city.
Peter started off by telling us how huge and unique the Kings Cross development. It covers 67 acres and is a “huge part of Central London” that he described as being virtually derelict for about 100 years and been “left to rot for a very long time”.
He also pointed out that the fact that the Eurostar train connection to mainland Europe leaves form here makes it a “very, very important transport hub”. The idea behind this massive project is, therefore, to “regenerate an area which has really been tainted” by a number of issues such as deprivation, poverty and drugs.
Interestingly, the work being carried out here covers an area with a lot of old buildings which are classed by the UK Government as protected, listed buildings. These are the likes of heritage buildings from the Victorian age that are protected because of their historical importance. Additionally, there are also a lot of new buildings in the area being developed. He said that this mix of old and new buildings covers an area of over 8 million square feet of space.
This combination of different types of building had to be taken into account when planning the Kings Cross development. This means that they have “integrated the old heritage buildings within the new concept”. A fascinating example used by Peter to explain this to us comes with the old Granary building which was used to store grain in the past. This has been converted into a trendy fashion college which had led to fashionably, arty students moving into the heart of the area and making it a “very cool” place.
When we asked him what he thought the audience for the development would be, Peter was very clear that it is “truly international” partly because of the area’s Eurostar link. He also stated that the determining factor for incomers is the person’s lifestyle rather than their age or income levels.
As for the retail and leisure options that are going to be on offer in the Kings Cross area, there are lots of plans being worked on just now, with some already coming to fruition. For example, the night before he spoke us was the opening night for Dishoom, which is a Bombay café that is set in a new building but “looks like it’s been there for a hundred years”.
He confirmed that it is a “slightly different” setting for retail brands to promote their image or brand in London . We shouldn’t expect to see mass market brands such as Marks& Spencer and Top Shop opening here. Instead, it will be trendy, emerging brands that are attracted to the site.
Intriguingly, Peter told us that one of the first retail deals they have done for Kings Cross is for a retailer from a European capital city. It will be their first and only store in the UK capital and while he couldn’t confirm the name it sounds like it could be big news in the pipeline.
When asked about the share of local retailers and international brands at Kings Cross he said that they have a very “evolving model” and aren’t restricted in this respect. He thinks that it will be a mixture of local and international brands. He also expressed his hope that a UK retailer may think about “doing a different thing” at this development, such as opening a special edition of their store.
We asked whether the idea was to keep it fresh and offer something really new for the consumer, which Peter agreed was definitely a goal. He said that North London has traditionally been considered as “not quite as comfortable” as other parts of the capital and that this would add an extra edge to the project. He also stressed the fact that adding heritage to new projects is always difficult but that it won’t be a problem here.
As far as the cultural attractions go, as well as the fashion college there is a deal in place with the wealthy Aga Khan to open a cultural center in the area. Peter agreed that attracting people for cultural reasons as well as for shopping and leisure is “very easy to say but very hard to do”. He pointed out to us that there will be about 30 to 40 thousand people living in the area that will need access to things to do.
The quality grocery chain Waitrose will also have a presence in the new development, with a cookery school and a wine shop as part of their store. He pointed out that the policy with this development is to “not do the same” as the rest, so that are looking out for interesting, different ideas.
As the conversation moved on to other malls in London, Peter stated that Westfield is “an amazing company” and that their shopping center in the capital has been so successful that they are now expanding and extending it by another 600,000 square feet. There is also the Battersea Power Station development, Earls Court and the one at Victoria. He isn’t aware of any other city that is “so established but that has suddenly got 5, 6 or 7 projects” at the same time.
The presence of landed estates was put forward to us as one of the possible reasons London is so different from other big cities. Rather than individuals owning pieces of land here and there, in London old, wealthy titles families own “great chunks” of the city. A fine example comes with the Queen owning Regent Street, allowing it to be transformed more easily in recent years.
We put it to Peter that in some parts of the world developers find it difficult to get the idea of malls accepted by locals. He suggested that this could be because a lot of them “aren’t very good”. While he says that London doesn’t have many malls, he pointed out that the Kings Cross development will have “40% of the area devoted to open spaces”. It certainly looks like a development worthy keeping an eye on.