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Ardwick Is The New Ancoats

New Look Ancoats: interior of the Use Space hub

New year, new prospects, and the hottest prospect in 2020 could be Ardwick.

Today the sprawling mix of urban edgeland, Georgian villas, railway yards, music venues and social housing is hard to believe in. There are a handful of significant commercial schemes including MCR's 280K SF Universal Square refurbished in 2018, and the 200K SF Sharp Project, focused on the media, tech and digital sectors. But along with a smattering of professional occupiers (architects and landscapers seem to dominate) the Ardwick commercial market is thin.

That could soon change. The £1.4B Mayfield project occupies a key site linking Piccadilly railway station and its neighbourhood to hyper-funky Ancoats and Manchester's thriving Northern Quarter on one side, and unexplored Ardwick on the other.

U+I plans a 70K SF toe-in-the-water at Mayfield, a down payment on an 800K SF commercial scheme. Work on-site will begin this year to deliver the 30-acre project, which also includes 1,500 new homes, hotels and leisure space.

Now keen-eyed developers are spotting an opportunity in Ardwick, at the further end of the Mayfield site. What was once nowhere, commercially speaking, suddenly becomes city fringe.

HS Property Group, the Ardwick-based real estate investment and development firm, has acquired more than 35K SF of Ardwick commercial space.

The company has purchased 31 Ardwick Green North, a 21.5K SF Grade II-listed property in Ardwick, which is already home to the popular coworking hub Use.Space, set up in 2019.

HS Property has established new headquarters in the building, taking the 1.5K SF top floor to provide its growing 21-strong team with a new workspace.

In the same transaction, HS Property acquired a neighbouring 19th century schoolhouse of 14K SF that will remain occupied by Seventy7 Group, a global media agency.

HS Property are now in talks on a second property of 55K SF, and have plans for the car park at Ardwick Green, a site within a loud shout of the thundering Mancunian Way ring road, and ideal for large-scale residential development.

The first application is to build just 70K SF of more than 800K SF of envisaged office floorspace. The Mayfield development on the site of Manchester’s former London Road station was first floated in 2009. Then it was billed as a potential Whitehall of the North. Today the consortium of U+I, Transport for Greater Manchester, government-owned British Rail residuary body LCR and the city council has submitted paperwork for a nine-storey, 70K SF office building overlooking a 6.5-acre park. There will also be a 545-space multistorey car park. Work on-site will begin in early 2020. A separate application for a larger flagship 12-storey office building is expected to be made this autumn. The total 10-15 year development of the entire 30-acre site will create 1,500 homes, 800K SF of office space, a 650-bedroom hotel, and retail and leisure space. In the last 10 years the project’s end value has rocketed as Manchester land values have soared. Once described as an £850M scheme it is now branded as a £1.4B transformation.

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Ardwick Green, something Ancoats doesn't have

Ardwick has the large mills you find in Ancoats, the location is good, and it is the natural progression of the Manchester market," HS Property co-founder Guy Horne told Bisnow. Schemes like Mayfield help explain why a lot of people are getting quite excited about it.

“Ardwick is great because you can find larger buildings than you can in Ancoats, but what it lacks is the mix of leisure and food operators you find in Ancoats, and that is what Ardwick needs next. We are looking at bringing the right kind of innovative operators to our space.”

Ardwick commercial rents are, as yet, nothing to write home about. But a landlords’ disappointing rent is a hipster tenant’s big break, and this accounts for some of the excitement now surrounding the district. Older, less agreeable properties rent at £6 to £8 per SF, with smarter stuff £12 to £15 per SF.

Manchester City Council is now looking at a planning framework for the area, a move that will enhance its appeal to developers.

It all adds up to one of the handful of opportunities in Manchester to buy at the bottom of the market. Half a mile away land sells at £3.5M an acre (the Great Ancoats Street retail park is a case in point). Ardwick looks good value in comparison, Horne argued.

“We’ll be buying more,” Horne said. “We could double our portfolio soon, and keep on growing.”

Ardwick may not be setting the world on fire today. But this time next year, who knows?