The Pop Idol panellist, and man behind Kylie and Rick Astley, opens the doors to his ‘creative village’ – a 300,000ft² redevelopment of London’s County Hall
He may be best known for filling the airwaves with infuriatingly catchy yet strangely mechanical pop music, but now Pop Idol judge Pete Waterman has turned his idiosyncratic talents to a new venture – turning a famous London landmark into a bustling media community.
Waterman bought a quarter of the County Hall site on London’s South Bank in 2002 and last Thursday he was on hand to welcome hoards of estate agents to the newly opened County Hall Quarter.
Waterman was in typically ebullient mood when explaining his latest enterprise: “It’s going to be a community, a creative village,” he said. “This building was a government building, full of people doing mundane jobs. Let’s take out the staidness. No matter how you look at it, this is an institution. We just want to make it an institution for the mentally insane. That’s what we are.”
The former headquarters of the Greater London council, which totals about 93,000m2, was abandoned by the local authority in 1986 and lay empty until Japanese company Shirayama bought its freehold in 1993.
Nine years later, enter Waterman – the man behind Kylie and Rick Astley – and his company, Cadogan Entertainment, which acquired the lease for about 29,000m2 of the western part of the building, and marked it out as a space for creative businesses to thrive.
“We could have already sold the space to call centres, but what would be the point in us being here? said Waterman, who moved his studios into the building last year. “Shirayama could have done that years ago.”
To woo the creative businesses Waterman is targeting, and keep the call centres at bay, extensive work had to be done on the former council office’s interior to “take out the staidness”. The resulting £3.5m refurbishment includes atriums and wall-climbing lifts.
We want to make it an institution for the mentally insane, because that’s what we are
Waterman’s enthusiasm for the Grade II*-listed building is, characteristically, limitless.
“The space is awe-inspiring. It’s enormous. The point is, there are no rules.”
If this last point sounds like the words of a man who hasn’t entirely swapped pop for property, Jit Chauhan, Cadogan’s managing director, explained: “There’s no point in me and Pete putting in escalators, because we don’t know who the next tenants are going to be. This building needs somebody to come in here with imagination and not just look at what’s already here.”
Despite taking on County Hall, Waterman and Chauhan insist they are not property developers.
“I’m not interested in property development at all,” says Waterman. “This is more of a business development. We’re here for the long-term.”
Waterman’s vision is clearly at odds with the views of some of the estate agents who came to see County Hall Quarter, which is already home to the British Phonographic Industry.
“Those who came and looked around this morning fell into two categories,” he says. “Those who asked how many toilets there were on the floor, and those who looked up and went, ‘Wow! amazing’. Those who asked where the toilets were missed the point. They can have as many toilets as they want.
If Walt Disney wanted to bring his accounts department, he’s not coming …
“You’ve got to think out of the box with this building. If you come in here and ask where the toilets are, you’re in the box.”
Waterman said that he got the idea for his “creative village” in Sweden where the government gave young, aspiring producers a bursary to rent offices. They then had to run their businesses out of those offices and pay the rent.
“It was a hand-out of a different sort,” said Waterman. “The Swedes went on to take the whole world’s record industry by the scruff of the neck,” said Waterman. “I thought what a great idea this is, and like all good ideas, you pinch them.”
Waterman and Chauhan stress that they will be flexible about terms if the right tenants approach them.
“If somebody comes to us and says: ‘I’ve got this great idea, I want one office and a desk’, we’ll say, ‘Hey, let’s have a look at it’,” says Waterman.
“If Walt Disney wanted to bring his accounts department, he’s not coming. If he wants to bring his accounts and creative department, he’s in next week.”
“And,” interrupts Chauhan, “if he wants to come in and bring his accounts, creative department and maybe a little museum, then he’d be here yesterday.”