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Convene Wants To Expand In The UK By Taking Over Dead Retail Space

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An image of Convene's new space at 22 Bishopsgate

U.S. events, meetings and workspace business Convene is on the lookout for opportunities to expand in the UK by occupying big chunks of retail space left vacant by struggling tenants in shopping malls and on high streets.

Convene is in active discussions to take on London retail space and convert it into large flagship destinations for corporate occupiers looking for flexible space. 

“We want to position ourselves as a new anchor tenant in large retail schemes,” Convene Vice President of Real Estate Elliott Sparsis told Bisnow. “We want to convert these large, empty retail boxes into Convene flagship destinations for meetings, events and workspace.”

Given their size and layout, department stores are likely to be a particularly rich source of opportunity. Big names like House of Fraser, Debenhams and Marks & Spencer are all closing stores.

Westfield is looking to convert a House of Fraser department store into flexible office space in west London, and John Lewis has applied for planning permission to convert some of its flagship Oxford Street store into office space.

Sparsis said that not all shopping centres or department stores would fit the bill for conversion. Spaces need to have their own entrance, rather than being accessed only through a shopping centre, need to have good access by public transport and road and need generous internal floor-to-ceiling heights.

Convene has already undertaken such a transformation in New York City. In 2019, the company took over a 73K SF department store previously occupied by Saks Fifth Avenue at Brookfield’s eponymous Brookfield Place and now operates it as one of its largest U.S. locations

In London, Convene has pre-let space at 22 Bishopsgate and 80 Fenchurch St. in the City of London as its debut locations. 

Sparsis said that on the general question of where people work long term, the future was still up the air, but some things were becoming clear.

“Will central London remain a HQ environment where a business puts all of its workforce in one place? No,” he said. “It’s pretty clear that in the future, there will be three areas of work: working from home, working from a central London HQ, and then some sort of third space near to where people live. We’re doing a lot of work on what that third space might look like.”

He said that rather than companies occupying fixed space in satellite locations outside of central London, or operators like Convene managing multiple outer London or suburban locations, he expected corporate occupiers, flex operators and landlords to strike up partnership agreements to give workers the flexibility to work where they wanted. 

Bisnow is hosting a webinar on the art and science of repurposing real estate at 1.30pm on Wednesday 30 September. Sign up here.