These developers built their company during the recession and are now bringing Manchester's derelict buildings back to life
Development doesn’t have to be all about shiny glass buildings.
They may be architecturally impressive and even push boundaries, but there are more ways than one to bring about an exciting scheme as one Manchester development company has shown.
Capital & Centric is the company behind a number of exciting projects in Manchester, Salford , and Liverpool, transforming heritage buildings into mixed use developments and residential schemes.
The fast-growing company led by developers Tim Heatley and Adam Higgins has quickly gained a reputation for working within complex but often important regeneration developments, bringing back to life derelict buildings that have lain untouched for years.
“One of our big motivations is trying to create a legacy for our children,” says Higgins when I meet the pair at their office on Little Peter Street, Manchester.
“We don’t want to build buildings that make money,” he tells me.
“Its about creating sustainable space that is still around in 20 or 40 years time. We want to do things that are great architecturally and that we and the community can feel proud of.”
And it’s that philosophy that has already seen them working on some major schemes in the north west.
In the last five years, Capital & Centric has completed 500,000 sq ft of development.
These include the completion of award-winning developments for enterprise and architecture at Bunker and Tempest in Liverpool and a further 40,000 sq ft of high-tech business space at the Foundry in Salford, which has been sold to various occupiers including filmmakers, a micro brewery and creative businesses.
Heatley says: “We never set out with any great vision to do what we have done. All we have ever been bothered about is to stay true to those core values, stay in the arenas of what we are good at and do that really well.”
So where did it all start for the dynamic duo who met at a property conference in Manchester over six years ago...
Heatley, who was in the middle of training as a lawyer swiftly gave it up to do something more creative - and joined property firm Modus as a junior development surveyor.
“The property scene was growing really quickly in 2000, so before I knew it I was 25 and I had a shareholding in the company in charge of lots of big complicated projects. It was a booming economy and lots to do so I learnt everything there.”
His experience enabled him to leave Modus and bravely start his own company, Centric, in 2009 in the midst of the recession.
“Overnight I had gone on paper as being wealthy to worth almost nothing because of the recession,” remembers Heatley, “But I had youth on my side. I was in my late 20s and I had experience. I knew that I had interest in creative ideas and I knew that an alternative approach could work.”
His first major project was developing an 18-acre brownfield site in Rochdale that had gone into administration.
“I somehow persuaded the bank to give me time to get some money lined up, get a ransom strip done and to persuade the European Regional Development Fund to give us a grant to develop the site, put a road into it and put power into,” he recalls.
Not only was he successful in convincing the ERDF to handover £3.4m for the project, but Heatley managed to get extra contractor finance and support from RBS to build over 300,000 sq ft of energy efficient offices, distribution space and warehousing facilities, while creating jobs for local people.
It was then during a chance meeting at a property convention where Heatley met future business partner Higgins, who had also set up his own company, Capital. For a year the pair helped each other out on projects, bounced ideas off each other, until, one day, they decided to join forces, and Capital & Centric was formed in March 2011.
Higgins said: “When you work by yourself it can be a lonely experience, especially if you’re making big decisions such as buying land, so it was great to have someone to speak to.
"In fact, we did that quite a bit and decided that we’re better of doing it together. We work very well and we had different skills to bring to the table .”
Heatley joins in: “Our philosophy in terms of what we wanted to achieve was the same. But we’re very different too. I probably worry more about detail,” and Higgins pipes in: “I worry more about the downside of it all.”
The company now has a team of eight staff - mainly development professionals - in the office, and around 50 on site.
Together the pair have worked on a number of interesting projects. Their first was Hangar, situated on the old Liverpool Airport runway. The 5-acre site was speculatively developed into a workspace by Capital & Centric using cash from the ERDF following its acquisition from the Homes and Communities Agency.
“It was an empty site marketed for years with very little interest,” says Higgins. “Working on projects like this and getting funding from ERDF meant that we were able to compete with the big boys, it was our way in.
"The reason I set up myself in the first place was because I could see that none of the big boys had any money to put down on sites. Everybody was trying to agree deals or get options on sites and not have to pay for it until later because during the recession everybody had the banks on their backs.
“As a small company we weren’t at a disadvantage. There wasn’t a single property company in Manchester back in 2010 that was putting any serious money down on sites unless it was absolutely nailed down with an exit.
“And so it was almost like a level playing field for us as we were in exactly the same position as everyone else.”
Another big project was the £6m Tempest office scheme, also in Liverpool. The 1970s building had been empty for over a decade.
“We bought that and completely changed it,” says Higgins. “We decided we didn’t want to do a Grade A office development as there was plenty of people in the market ready to do that.
“But we could see from what was happening in Shoreditch, London and places like New York, that people were moving away from Grade A and were looking for a more industrial aesthetic.”
Heatley adds: “To go down the Grade A route would have cost more, but by stripping it back we could do it cheaper, get the same rent as Grade A and actually do the building much quicker while attracting interesting tenants too.
“We found that the stripped back look was a hit, especially with the creative/digital firms. I remember we never even got to see the basement before we bought it as it was flooded, now it’s got a meeting space down there. We also built a roof terrace with a beehive and now we produce Capital & Centric honey.”
He continues: “In many ways we had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
“In setting up on our own we genuinely believed in our approach and that it would allow us to do things differently. There’s lots of tired old buildings, but the reality is, if you’re a high tech company looking for a workspace there’s actually no where to move. So our philosophy was - if we can build something that’s design orientated - it will appeal to tech and lab based companies.”
The work has also continued in Greater Manchester.
The company has developed The Foundry Film Studios, an 8,000 sq ft purposely-built venue located adjacent to MediaCityUK. It has been designed specifically for the creation of TV and advertising content, photography shoots and events. The scheme has 12 units and 11 have already been sold.
Heatley said: “The creative sector wanted an environment that will work. We approached Salford council and said we were aware of some land and buildings that might be suitable for us to create workspaces built around the creative and digital sector.
“The site we found was amazing, yet it had been sat there with nothing happening. The idea was that we will do something that will actually create jobs, so rather than build warehouses we really wanted to create an exciting scheme. We spent a lot of money on the architecture which we could justify as we wanted to attract high quality occupiers.
“By putting effort into that design, we ended up with a more interesting mix of people including a micro brewery, a travel agents, a film studio, two photographic studios, and on account of that, we ended up with higher quality and interesting jobs in Salford and achieved every one of the aspirations for that site.”
While speculative office developments were a hit, the pair wanted to take the company in a new direction, after all both Heatley and Higgins were experts at mixed use developments - and started looking at developing residential schemes.
And despite running up against the ‘big boys’, the company joined up with Henry Boot Development and later bid and won the deal to develop the £200m Kampus scheme .
The scheme will transform Manchester Metropolitan University’s old campus near to the Gay Village, creating over 500 apartments alongside independent businesses and a ‘secret garden’.
Higgins says: “This is probably the best new residential neighbourhood that we are creating in the heart of Manchester. It will be a pure rented scheme with a mix of units from new builds and an existing derelict building which will be stripped back to the frame so we can create really cool retro 1960s themed apartments with massive floor to ceiling heights, and exposed brickwork.
“The whole thing will be based around a secret garden that will be surrounded by independent bars and restaurants.”
On the back off that, Capital & Centric has also acquired Crusader Works, a Grade II-listed mill complex behind Piccadilly Station.
The developers bought the 200,000 sq ft mill in an off-market deal with private landowner Shafiq Tufail at the end of last year.
Designed by Shedkm, the refurbished mills would include 200 apartments, made up of 75 with one bedroom, 124 two bedrooms and one with three-bedrooms.
Two thirds of the flats will be converted loft apartments with oak floors, cast iron columns, oak ceiling, original windows, and exposed brickwork. An old courtyard will be transformed into green space.
Heatley said: “We feel privileged to be working with historic buildings, bringing them back to life and connecting them back to the rest of the city.”
Back in Liverpool, the duo are planning to develop the north’s biggest film studios in the city’s iconic Littlewoods building.
The former Littlewoods Pools Building has been vacant since 2003, and Capital & Centric has already completed a £4m conversion of the ‘Bunker Building’ creating 20,000 sq ft of office space at the site.
“The future of workspace will be around content creation,” said Heatley. “Workspace needs to be built around experience, because that is what attracts talent.
“Me and Adam reckon that content creation is changing, so for example now newspapers are doing video, and what was social media and keeping up with your mates is turning into news channels, radio stations now have a news page, but the single main thing here is that it’s all about content creation.
"With so many different devices to stream, download, and broadcast, we wanted to create space where organisations could create content whether that’s for film, television, radio or gaming and so on.
“The Littlewoods Film Studio will be the biggest in the north.”
While 2016 has been an exciting time for the business with £1m a week spent in regeneration activities, 2017 is set to get bigger.
Higgins says: “What I love about our work is that the quality of our portfolio is really good, not just in a financial sense, but because of the mix that we have got from the TV and film studios, to listed mills, new build and PRS accommodation.
Heatley adds: “We have no bank debts and that’s given us huge abilities to do things that are different. We don’t spend any time worrying about what the banks will say.
"We are able to do stuff that is a bit alternative, quite quirky, unusual, without being slowed down or told to do things more conventionally.”