Property investment and development company Almacantar has launched a second bid to convert London’s infamous Centre Point office building to residential use. Together with partner Frogmore, the firm plans to spend £350m transforming the 34 storey 1960s tower on New Oxford Street into luxury flats which it is estimated could fetch at least £1m each.
Centre Point has been notorious since its completion in 1966. The building was designed by architect Richard Seifert on behalf of Harry Hyams, who made a fortune developing London commercial property during the 1960s and 1970s. Hyams has been described as the “daddy of all developers” and the man who pioneered modern property development.
However, he also gained the unwelcome reputation as the personification of, what was widely seen, as the greed of the property industry during the 1970s. This was due to the fact that Centre Point remained unoccupied for several years due to Hyams strict policy of seeking only single blue chip tenants for his developments.
Unable to find a tenant willing to take the entire 202,000 sq ft, Hyams stubbornly refused to let the building floor by floor, preferring to sit it out as London office rents rose higher and higher. Given its prominent location Centre Point quickly became the focus of media attention and eventually a political issue.
Prime Minister Edward Heath was called upon to intervene and in 1972 the Secretary of State for the Environment, Peter Walker, offered £5m for the building on behalf of the government. This led to Hyams eventually agreeing to let the building to multiple tenants but negotiations stalled.
In 1974 Centre Point once again hit the headlines when campaigners occupied the building to draw attention to the plight of London’s homeless population. The occupation lasted for two days and is widely believed to have given rise to the name of the homeless charity Centrepoint but, in fact, the charity had been in existence for several years before the occupation.
This is not the only myth associated with Centre Point. During its years of notoriety a wild conspiracy theory that the government was subsidising Hyams to keep the building empty gained popular currency. It was believed this was due to fact that, as one of the few fully air-conditioned office blocks in London at the time, it might become useful to the government in the event of nuclear war!
Almacantar bought the building from property group Targetfollow for £120m two years ago but claims that it is too expensive to maintain as a commercial property. Its previous proposal was rejected last September amid concerns about the lack of affordable housing in the area.
The new scheme attempts to resolve this by including provision for a block of flats on the site of a nearby pub. Almacantar is also proposing to build a piazza at the base of the building but is still resisting council pressure to include a viewing gallery in its plans.
If the proposal gains approval it will become the highest profile office to residential conversion in the country and will create 3,000 construction jobs.