Given the well-documented challenges in retail and the threat to traditional offices posed by co-working, you could argue the days of the traditional anchor tenant are numbered. Many high-street brands that investors could rely on to draw in other occupiers have either gone under or face considerable financial difficulty.
Meanwhile, large corporates are reassessing whether shiny new office blocks are in fact preferable to space in revamped historic buildings run by trendy operators we see popping up across cities globally.
These trends are only likely to accelerate. New technologies will make online shopping and flexible working easier, affecting demand for physical retail and commercial space. Changing populations and longer lifespans mean demand for housing of different types and tenures will continue. However, this only highlights the need to combine residential delivery with a sense of place rather than allowing uninspired neighbourhoods that are the root cause of a lot of nimbyism today.
But if developers get creative – in more ways than one – we can all benefit. By harnessing the power of culture, the property industry can drive regeneration, open up new opportunities and add value in a way that cannot simply be captured by a percentage figure.
For ambitious regeneration and placemaking projects, cultural occupiers can act as a differentiator from identikit schemes where retail, offices and residential are thrown together without much thought. By allotting part of a scheme for cultural uses, mixed-use developers can not only make a meaningful contribution to their section 106 responsibilities, but also add value to both the project and wider community. Culture is an under-utilised ingredient in unlocking regeneration. It can open up public spaces, add to the sense of place and tell a story about the area.
At Urban Catalyst, we’ve understood the power of culture for some time. At our Bermondsey Square development in Southwark, for example, retail, hotel and offices are joined by an art-house cinema and performing arts space. In Purfleet, Thurrock, we’re looking to deliver thousands of homes alongside a world-leading creative hub as part of a town centre overhaul, creating well over 1,000 jobs in a location desperately in need of new opportunities.
We are not alone. From British Land turning a printworks into a music and events venue at Canada Water to Caddick Group shaping its new SOYO neighbourhood around the Leeds Playhouse and Northern Ballet, forward-thinking firms have already recognised culture’s potential to unlock development.
That’s not to say there aren’t challenges. As countless examples from across the globe show, cultural projects are often controversial and, even worse, over time and budget.The not-for-profit nature of many cultural institutions is an obstacle, as many would struggle to secure space on purely commercial terms. This means looking at innovative financing structures that embrace public-private partnerships.
In a fast-changing world, cultural institutions can step up and play the role historically played by major corporates or big-name retailers in anchoring a new place.
Ken Dytor is executive chairman of Urban Catalyst