How This Off Pitch West London Scheme Became A Creative And Life Sciences Hotspot
Yes, the BBC, the UK’s national broadcaster, was going to lease back some of the site. And Westfield had built one of its huge London shopping centres nearby, plus university Imperial College was building a second campus across the road.
But White City had virtually no background as a major office location, let alone one that could support the 2.1M SF of development planned by the three firms.
Fast forward seven years, and the investment has paid off, and it provides an insight into what it takes to create an office destination virtually from scratch: a bit of luck, creative asset management and a lot of hard work, Stanhope Director of Asset Management Claire Dawe told Bisnow on a tour of what is now called White City Place.
Last month, fellow broadcaster ITV moved 800 staff to White City Place. By next year, it will base about 2,000 staff at the scheme, leasing 125K SF in total. By next year, L'Oréal will move into about 110K SF at a new building at the scheme.
The strategy was always to make White City Place a creative hub. But a bit of luck and a bit of flexibility has seen it become a life sciences centre as well, just as that sector of UK real estate starts to take off. And Stanhope is looking to explore innovative ways of harnessing that growth by providing space to growing companies in exchange for equity stakes in its tenants.
Today, White City Place comprises six refurbished buildings totalling 960K SF, three of which are already open, operational and let to multiple tenants. Three are still occupied by the BBC.
Then there are two new developments, which are scheduled for completion later this year or early next. There is also planning permission for a sixth, 525K SF building called Gateway East that is yet to commence. The extension will total 1.1M SF and the whole scheme will comprise 2.1M SF when completed. Cadillace Fairview bought a stake in the scheme in 2020.
Stanhope, AIMCO and Mitsui had already bought into the area when they made that £87M investment — the duo had paid £200M for the BBC’s Television Centre building, the home of the corporation’s TV operations since 1960. The BBC retained three studios in a portion of the building there, and Stanhope was in charge of a development that now comprises apartments, an outpost of SohoHouse as well as workspace.
The aim is to create some theatre on the ground floor, Dawe said, referring to the fact Huckletree’s offices have a huge glass frontage to the lobby of the building, so people coming into the building feel a sense of buzz and of work being done. Dawe credits Huckletree’s presence in the scheme’s early days as a big factor in drawing Yoox Net-A-Porter to White City Place. The online fashion company leases 70K SF in the MediaWorks building.
Stanhope hired Dawe from Grosvenor in 2018, the first director of asset management at a developer that had typically built, then sold on its schemes.
Some of the initiatives introduced at White City Place highlight how much work landlords have to put in to attract the tenants they want, work that is only intensifying now that employees are just as comfortable working at home as in the office.
The lobby at the MediaWorks business totals 12K SF, and it includes a café open to both workers in the building and the general public, as well as art and sound installations.
In the public space between the buildings is a podcasting studio that is available to tenants, and White City Place produces its own podcast featuring speakers from the creative industries. The asset management team runs a series of live talks and events for tenants.
The scheme features a gym, yoga classes and a run club, as well as 15 restaurants and cafés. There is a multimedia events space and presentation studio tenants can hire for presentations to staff and clients, which has been used for everything from all-hands meetings to DJ classes. Dawe said that provides an additional revenue stream to the owners.
The asset management initiatives have clearly had an impact — rents at the scheme have risen from about £45 per SF in 2016 to more than £60 per SF today, Dawe said.
What wasn’t necessarily envisaged at the conception of the scheme was the attraction to life sciences firms. White City Place is close to the huge west London campus that is being built in phases by Imperial College, one of the UK’s top universities for science, with research and lab space as well as accelerator space to help startups that spin out as the university grows.
Biopharmaceutical company Autolus was one of the first life sciences companies to take space at the scheme, with a 13K SF lease in 2018. That was followed by biotech software company Synthace later that year, whose big coup came when drug company Novartis decided to move its HQ from Surrey to the development, signing a 54K lease in 2018, and opening in 2020.
“The buildings have good floor to ceiling heights, good ventilation, good back of house facilities, and that is what has allowed us to enable them for lab use,” Dawe said. The new Gateway East building could be lab enabled, she said.
Stanhope and its partners looked at ways to help companies in the life sciences sector grow, and to capture some of the upside of facilitating this growth. Dawe used the example of Autolus to outline the needs of companies in this sector — the firm had grown from 12 staff at White City to 500 in the space of six months, now leasing 33K SF.
“We’re exploring what we can do in terms of revenue models,” Dawe said.
Typically life sciences companies have a certain amount of capital at the start of their life, and are looking to keep costs low, she said.
If their research looks like it can be scaled up and commercialised, they will then go and raise further equity.
“They don’t have a huge amount of money at the start of their lives, but then when they need to grow, they need to grow quickly,” Dawe said. “If you don’t charge rent at the start to keep down their occupier costs, when that company grows by 100 times, can you take a percentage of that?”
Dawe said it would require a very different skill set for a developer to be able to start analysing which life sciences companies to back. But then, to create thriving assets today already requires a way of thinking that would have seemed alien in real estate only 10 years ago.