“This event is quite something,” said one guest at the topping out of the Heron Tower yesterday. “You don’t get many of these ceremonies done like this. Or with this many guests. But then look around. You would know that this was a [Gerald] Ronson event wouldn’t you?”
I have to confess that I am not entirely sure what “a Ronson event” actually is. But judging by the one yesterday, I would guess he has a reputation for knowing how to take good care of his guests.
There was a constant, and seemingly never ending, stream of hot soup and gourmet canapés being circulated (who knew you could fit an entire mini chicken roast dinner into a scooped out new potato skin), a bar offering everything from coffee and tea through to spicy tomato juice and sparkling apple and elderflower cordial, and a mix of club chill-out music just audible over the murmur of networking and general appreciation for such decent finger food at 11am.
In fact, if you took away the smattering of high viz jackets and hard hats in the crowd, this would have been the Holy Grail of parties in the London socialites' world – the icing on the cake being the exclusive location 40 floors up with incredible, unbroken views over London and beyond.
But the ceremony was a landmark event for more than just the canapés and endless supply of Virgin Marys. Apart from the fact that it marked a milestone in the construction of what is currently London’s tallest building, and one that it has been developed and built by the powerhouse duo of Heron International and Skanska, it was one of the first events of its type to crop up on the industry calendar for a very long time indeed.
“It’s been ages since I came to a topping out,” said one guest wistfully. “This is the first major one in almost two years.”
This was a sentiment echoed by everyone there. And it’s well placed - the fact that this 230 metre high, £185m mega project is on schedule for completion in February 2011 in the midst of such turbulent economic times is nothing short of a miracle.
Commercial property development in London has been pretty much dead in the water for 18 months and it has been only in the last few weeks that even big player developers like Land Securities and British Land have started talking about dusting off plans.
Quite how Ronson and his team managed to push on through what has been one of the worst recessions in history while others ground to a halt around them is up for speculation. “I would say it is down to luck more than anything else,” said one senior industry professional at the event. “A good team and a fortunate cash position too. But luck certainly comes into it.”
And it seems that Ronson doesn’t wholly disagree. Addressing the guests some 40 floors up (the external hoist lift was quite an experience so early on in the working week) he said: “Today we begin the countdown to completion that is less than 50 weeks away. Whether this is by luck or judgment, I believe that Heron Tower has come to market at the right time.”
Either way, the scheme looks set to become one of the few bright spots, along with the Shard, for property development and construction in London through what has been one of the toughest recessions the industry has faced. Plus many are predicting that it will be a blue print and a jumping off point for developments to come - and that has to be a good thing.