Hong Kong-based developer Tenacity has received the all-clear to build a 33-storey office tower in the City of London after scaling back an earlier design following opposition from heritage groups.
The business district’s planning authority announced on Tuesday that Tenacity was granted permission to redevelop 70 Gracechurch Street into a new 75,500 square metre (812,675 square foot) commercial complex under a design created by Kohn Pedersen Fox.
The news came less than a month after Tenacity got the go-ahead to develop a 30-storey office tower at 55 Gracechurch Street, less than a minute’s walk away.
Founder and CEO Patrick Wong said Tenacity has worked closely with local officials on both projects, the firm’s first holdings in the UK.
“70 Gracechurch Street will lead the way for a new generation of office-led buildings in the City that reflect the changing needs and expectations of occupiers and visitors,” Wong said. “Our proposals put the health and wellbeing of occupants at its heart, while also fundamentally transforming the public realm and visitor experience for citygoers of all types.”
Completed in 2001 at the site of an old Roman forum, 70 Gracechurch Street’s existing building has four retail floors (anchored by Marks & Spencer) and six office floors spanning 214,000 square feet in total.
Tenacity acquired the building in 2017 from asset manager LGIM for £271.4 million ($358 million). The developer plans to demolish the structure and develop The Forum, a mixed-use concept with improved pedestrian links to the historic Leadenhall Market nearby.
The new tower will include 72,000 square metres of flexible office space, 1,800 square metres of flexible retail space and 1,500 square metres of public access space, as well as a pedestrian link to the historic Leadenhall Market.
The Forum’s revised design includes a free public gallery and winter garden on the 29th and 30th floors, as well as greenery in between the project’s three interconnected tower elements, which taper towards the top. The facade and massing of the building have been refined to improve local views, and the project is targeting a BREEAM rating of ‘Outstanding’ on the UK scale for sustainable buildings.
Nonetheless, preservation group Historic England last November said the updated design remained a poor fit for the heritage-rich neighbourhood.
“The prominence of the proposal and its consequent high potential to affect a high concentration of important heritage assets and the wider historic character of the City demands a very high-quality design response to its context,” the group said in a letter to planning officials. “We question whether the proposed design is of such quality. Its massing, the relationship between podium and upper levels, and the relationship between the proposed building and its surroundings, and particularly Leadenhall Market, all give grounds for thinking otherwise.”
Ready to Mingle
For its part, Tenacity has highlighted The Forum’s community-building aspects, including widened footpaths, additional planted trees and 500 cycle parking spaces at the car-free project. And Wong is adamant that high-quality office space will remain in demand post-COVID.
“The pandemic and various lockdowns have in fact emphasised how important it is to have more than just a phone and a screen but a place to share ideas, to congregate, to innovate and to collaborate,” he told the Evening Standard.
Wong, whose 15-year-old company also owns 299 Queen’s Road Central in Hong Kong, is the son of David Wong Shou-Yeh, the billionaire founder of the city’s Dah Sing Bank.
Kohn Pedersen Fox design principal John Bushnell pointed to 70 GraceChurch Street as a project that would bring workers back to the office post-pandemic, saying it will “create the sort of workplace it’s worth leaving your house for.”
Tenacity’s Gracechurch acquisitions came on the heels of several headline-making investments by Hong Kong interests in the City of London’s office market.
In March 2017, Hong Kong-listed, Chongqing-based CC Land agreed to buy the 610,000 square foot Leadenhall Building, nicknamed the Cheesegrater, for £1.15 billion. Later that year, oyster sauce maker Lee Kum Kee Group bought 20 Fenchurch Street, aka the Walkie Talkie, for £1.3 billion, in what was then the highest price ever paid for a single commercial building in the British capital.
At the time of Tenacity’s 70 Gracechurch purchase, Wong told the South China Morning Post that stable rental income, the rule of law and cheaper money were driving investment in London real estate by Hongkongers. The trend seems likely to intensify as multinational companies retreat from the SAR’s office market.