Maintaining Midtown’s Momentum
Kent Gardner
More than £1bn was invested in London’s Midtown in the first quarter of 2016 – almost double the £567m attracted in the last quarter of 2015. This reflects a new phenomenon: Midtown is increasingly showing the potential to evolve from a fringe zone sandwiched between the dominant poles of the City and the West End into a major central London location in its own right. So what will it take for Midtown to truly come of age?

Changing character 

The strength of Midtown’s potential is shown by the fact it drew record levels of investment just at the time when, ahead of the European referendum, investors were putting many decisions on ice. Now that Britain has voted to leave the EU, Midtown still has the fundamentals to maintain the momentum – if the right development strategies are employed.

Precise definitions of Midtown vary.  Here, we consider it to comprise Bloomsbury, Clerkenwell, Farringdon, Holborn and St Giles and Temple. It is not immediately obvious what unites these neighbourhoods but they are developing an increasing amount in common as a new shared ambience grows in Midtown.  

The single most powerful driver of change in Midtown has been the transformation of Farringdon station into a Crossrail hub. When the new train line opens in 2018, Midtown’s constituent parts will be minutes from the hearts of the both the East and West End, as well as one the UK’s busiest transport interchanges. 

Another game-changer for the district is that businesses no longer feel that they have to be based in a certain part of London. If hedge funds can move into Shoreditch and advertising giants Ogilvy & Mather can perch on the South Bank, location-wise anything is possible.

Hence a succession of new arrivals in Midtown break with the area’s tradition: Some 51% of office take-up in Q1 was from design, advertising, marketing & PR, media, internet and technology & telecoms companies. Examples include advertising agency Publicis Groupe taking the 58,200 sq ft of office space in the Turnmill building on Clerkenwell Road, Student.com acquiring 17,721 sq ft at 7-8 St Martins Lane and Omnicom taking 11,404 sq ft at Orion House.

In addition, a high volume of the Q1 Midtown deals were in the small-to-medium size range, with the majority (68%) of transactions being 5,000 sq ft and below, and 52% of all transactions being under 3,000 sq ft (Farebrother).

Our current project to remodel 90 Fetter Lane is a case in point. Whereas the building was previously majority occupied by a single law firm in an area that amounted to London’s ‘legal quarter’, we are repositioning it with a full refurbishment complete with carefully chosen ground floor retail, designed to meet demand for contemporary workspace from businesses with smaller space requirements in a range of sectors: creative, media, technology, professional and financial.