November 2, 2016
The marketing suite at Finzel’s Reach is adorned with a new wall-to-ceiling aerial photograph, taken just a few weeks ago, which offers a literal overview of what’s happening in the construction sector in the city.
From the “wastelands with promise” – the future site of the Bristol Arena beside Temple Meads, the long-empty Glassfields site, and a line of similar wastelands that still cut a swathe through the otherwise evolving Temple Quarter – right across to the Redcliffe Quarter with all the promise that entails for the south of the city centre.
But standing on the bend in the Floating Harbour, beside the historic Bristol Bridge, Finzel’s Reach is the centrepiece of the jigsaw – and now it seems, it is finally slotting into place.
The 4.7 acre site has a rich history – once the heart of the medieval city, in more recent decades it will be remembered by Bristolians as the site of the Courage Brewery.
When Courage pulled out in 1991 just eight people worked on the site, and for decades it was a large corner of the city that had been occupied by industry and closed off to the public.
That’s a far cry from the vibrant vision of mixed-use space – offices, leisure, retail and city centre apartments that is the vision of Gavin Bridge, director of Cubex, the company that took on the site four years ago, after a previous attempt to regenerate the site had fallen into receivership.
Later this month a much-anticipated new footbridge will be lowered into place connecting Finzel’s Reach to the middle of Castle Park – when it opens to the public by the end of the year, it is hoped this new thoroughfare will create a bustling new route between Broadmead and Temple Meads railway station.
Cubex is a Bristol-based firm, which has been running for the past 12 years, with investment for the scheme coming from the London-based Palmer Capital group of venture capitalists.
The gross development values put the whole project into some sort of context – £110 million worth of office space, £110 million worth of residential space, and £26 million worth of leisure space.
By 2019 some 2,500 people will live here in 437 new apartments, alongside 240,000sq ft of new office space. Some 30,000sq ft of new retail, restaurant and leisure space will be added to the mix, along with the 168-bedroom new Premier Inn hotel.
Integrated into the site, between the new hotel and the historic Generator Building (which will itself house trendy new offices), will be Aurora – a 95,000sq ft grade-A office building, set to open in 2018, which remarkably enough, is being speculatively built – along the “we will build it and they will come” lines.
Gavin has good reason to be confident. The Bridgewater House building – one of the first parts of the site to be completed – is already fully occupied, with big names such as EDF Energy, Barclays Wealth and BDO.
The complex of new apartment buildings – from the affordable-housing Hop Store (where one-bed apartments started from £185,000) through to the height of city living luxury – is almost entirely sold, with 130 apartments purchased and just three remaining to be snapped up.
For Gavin everything is about getting the mix right – the combination of residential, retail and commercial, but also the 60/40 ratio of owner-occupied apartments to rented and the right mix of spaces for all budgets.
In what is the media’s first opportunity to walk around the entire site, ahead of the arrival of the new bridge at the end of next month, it quickly becomes apparent that the site is going to have a bustling medieval city sort of feel, with narrow pathways winding through between high buildings, cobbled lanes and a complete absence of cars across the whole site.
“That was a very conscious decision we took when we took over the site,” Gavin explains. “There are so few areas in the city that are completely away from traffic, but we wanted to create the right environment for coffee shops and restaurants with outdoor seating alongside the main pedestrian and cycling thoroughfares through the site.”
Countering this absence of cars has been the construction below the surface of one of the real headaches for Gavin – an enormous subterranean car park, which will run beneath much of the site, housing nearly 300 cars.
“We’re also working hard to bring in retail that is sympathetic to a mixed use development – we always have to remember there will be a lot of people living here, so we don’t want noisy nightclubs. It’s all about enhancing the feel of the place by getting the mix right.”
One interesting planning stipulation was that the development must include an element of beer brewing on site – and Cubex are currently in talks with two micro-breweries about having a presence at Finzel’s Reach.
The new development will also reintroduce much of the historic, medieval street pattern, lost for centuries to industry, as well as creating a continuous path along the Floating Harbour – the historic route of the Avon that would once have been at the centre of the medieval city’s life.
Once the winding new 91m long bridge is put into place – after being barged down the Floating Harbour from Cattle Market Wharf, where the prefabricated structure is currently being assembled – a direct route will be set into place from Broadmead into Hawkins Lane, which will run through the centre of the development – leading directly on into Temple Street, with a new crossing being installed at Counterslip.
One of the most fascinating corners of the site is the historic Fermentation Buildings, which stand along this newly rediscovered ancient route through this corner of the city.
Set to be a vibrant space for restaurants, bars or coffee shops – it comes complete with a striking roof light that makes the building seem to open out on to the city’s skyline.
Another jewel in the new development will be the restoration of the Grade-II listed Generator Building – which fronts on to the Counterslip.
Built 120 years ago, it housed three large turbines, which powered the city’s tram system. But when a German bomb took out the neighbouring St Philip’s Bridge during the Second World War, the power lines were severed, and the city’s trams never ran from here again.
“It’s going to be a huge, cavernous space, which will make quirky office space – ideal for the creative media industry,” Gavin explains.
Gavin is clear in his vision of bringing the historic corner of the city back to life.
“It’s about creating a new community here, and bringing the public back into this space,” he says. “The previous developers who tried to regenerate this space surrounded themselves with hoardings, but right from the beginning when we came in, we made a concerted effort to open it up as soon as possible, to get the public walking through these historic thoroughfares again – it’s important for us to build that vibrancy back into the space as soon as we can. That’s always going to be the key.”
Author: David Clensy, Bristol Post