ONE of Britain’s leading commercial and urban regeneration companies was today named as the preferred bidder to transform the “eyesore” former headquarters of Aberdeen City Council into a new and vibrant civic square in the heart of the Granite City.
Manchester-based Muse Developments is to redevelop the prime site - opposite the council’s new headquarters in Marischal College - into a series of linked buildings, up to ten storeys high , offering a mix of hotel, offices, restaurants and retail space.
Councillor Barney Crocket, the leader of the council, claimed that, unlike the divisive plans to transform Union Terrace Gardens, the “innovative “ scheme would unite the people of Aberdeen behind the council’s plans to regenerate the city centre.
But he also revealed that the undisclosed commercial deal with the developer would involve the council facing an “element of risk” in a project in which the local authority will be involved in a “joint venture” capacity.
Under the deal, the the site will be leased to the developers, who are being backed by Aviva, and return to the council’s ownership after 35 years. The council, however, will not be putting any direct financial resources into the project.
Councillor Crockett declared: “This is a momentous day for the city. The decision and we have made is a historic decision.“We promised a modest civic square and this exciting development will deliver that and more, creating a lively new public space in the heart of the city. ”
Councillor Crockett explained: “The new development, referred to as Marischal Square by the developer, will be created using the local supply chain, local architecture, engineering and design firms, and local labour, creating apprenticeship opportunities, as well as the long-term job prospects delivered by the businesses housed in the development.
However, he also disclosed that the deal would involve the council being open to an element of risk in the project. Councillor Crocket said the the financial arrangements had to remain confidential but he explained:”It is a particularly complex financial deal which is a model about sharing risk - a model that I think may take off across the UK. There is a joint venture element to this and the risk sharing is quite complex between the funder, the developer and council.
“We are very much in control of any risk and I think we have been extremely conservative and prudent in making our calculations and I think the people of Aberdeen will be very pleased.”
Depute leader Councillor Marie Boulton, who chaired the St Nicholas House Working Group, said: “We’ve selected the bid which offers the best value for the citizens of Aberdeen, not only by looking at the financial and economic implications, but also the potential public realm benefits of the development, how well it matches with planning guidance for the area, the impact it will have on heritage and culture, and the bidders’ track record in delivering this type of scheme.
“The development offers an interesting mix of building sizes and uses, including with glass-roofed courtyards to allow people to enjoy the outdoor public areas even when the weather is poor. It also provides lively mixture of ground-floor premises which will ensure that it provides opportunities throughout the evening as well as through the day.”
Muse Developments regional director Scotland, Stephen Turner said: “Muse Developments and its partners Aviva Investors are delighted to have been given the opportunity to work with Aberdeen City Council on Marischal Square, a high profile regeneration project which we believe will deliver a significant and lasting benefit not only to the Broad Street area, but to the city of Aberdeen.
He added: “In structuring our proposal to Aberdeen City Council, the objective has been to ensure that our proposals are deliverable, work can begin shortly after the demolition of St Nicholas House completes, and that the whole project can be delivered in a single phase. Aviva Investors has committed to fully fund the project which underlines our ability to deliver.
“Muse has a great track record of delivering similar joint venture regeneration projects throughout the UK and is delighted to be presented with this opportunity to do the same for Aberdeen.”
The new development is expected to be completed by 2016.
St Nicholas House, a 15 -storey tower block, built in 1967, has lain empty since the council moved to its new headquarters across the road in Broad Street to the refurbished Marischal College.