With his £400m St Michael’s scheme finally underway, the former Manchester United star sits down with Daniel Gayne to discuss his real estate career

Nobody could accuse Gary Neville of going into this development thing half-baked. Having weathered a recession, a planning rejection, a change of architects and financial backers and then a pandemic, the ex-footballer’s vision of building a five-star hotel, residential and commercial scheme in the centre of Manchester is finally on site.

If all goes to plan, his company, Relentless, will complete the St Michael’s job 17 years after Neville first purchased the plot on Jackson’s Row – that’s the same amount of time it took him to amass 600 appearances for arguably the greatest Manchester United team ever.   


Source: Relentless

Gary Neville shows visitors around the St Michael’s construction site

Relentless, the name Neville, now 48, chose for his development company more than a decade ago, has become more apt by the year, neatly summarising the doggedness necessary to get the £400m scheme over the line. “It is my favourite word, I felt it epitomised my football career at Man Utd,” Neville tells Building over a pint at the Sir Ralph Abercromby pub in the heart of Manchester.

“Nothing ever stopped, you never stopped to enjoy something. You would never dwell on defeat, but you would never dwell on success either. It was just constant – I feel that is a little bit like how we are at St Michael’s.”  

I basically did an apprenticeship through my football career in the afternoons by being on site and learning as much as I possibly could

The path from football player to boardroom is a well-trodden one, with an increasing number of star players cashing in as the public face of one venture or another. But there is a seriousness about Neville that sets him apart and he describes development as the chief among his many post-footballing business interests.

“I’ve been doing it since the age of 22, developing locally up In Bolton, refurbishments of barns, farmhouses,” he says.

“I love developing, I love contracting, I love designing. I sat in on every design team meeting like a sponge. You have to listen and learn. I basically did an apprenticeship through my football career in the afternoons by being on site and learning as much as I possibly could.

“Football is the number one thing in my life in terms of knowledge, what I understand. After that, obviously I have got hotels and universities and other projects. But I think development is the thing that I am most comfortable talking about and I am really passionate about it.”  

Neville and his then-business partner Ryan Giggs got the original option on the Manchester Reform Synagogue at Jackson’s Row in 2006 and snapped up the Bootle Street police station – headquarters to Manchester’s boys in blue for nearly 80 years – when it closed in 2014. Giggs, who is currently facing a retrial over domestic violence charges, left the scheme in 2021.

When you have been on a project for 15 years, you have to adapt

The economic conditions of the period made major development unattractive, however, and it was not until 2016 that the pair put forward their first proposal for the site – two black-clad towers, 21 and 31 storeys respectively, designed by controversy magnet Make.

Neville said at the time that the scheme would “deliver the biggest statement in architecture and development that Manchester has seen in modern times”, but few were impressed with what the proposed buildings had to say. Locals were aghast at the proposal to demolish a police station and synagogue, as well as an old-school pub.

Heritage groups were similarly incensed, with one labelling the scheme “a town planning disaster of a magnitude not seen in decades”. 

The plans were dropped and the developers forced back to the drawing board. Looking back, Neville displays little resentment at the process.

“On reflection, that was right and I think we understand the mistakes that we made,” he says. “The planning system in the city works – it is there to protect. It is very important, the planning system, and we feel that we have been treated fairly.”

Nonetheless is was a difficult setback to take. “There was a point, maybe post-2016, when I thought, ‘what the hell are we doing?’,” he says. But Neville got back on the horse and submitted new plans with the support of Chicago-based architects SOM and local firm Hodder and Partners, who he says were “really important” in ensuring the designs were sympathetic to community concerns.

The resulting scheme preserved the pub and ditched the second tower in favour of a nine-storey office-led building which retained the Portland stone facade of the old police station. The surviving tower was increased in height to 40 storeys. 

The new scheme was granted planning permission in March 2018 but did not go straight to site and, in 2020, progress was further disrupted by the global coronavirus pandemic.

The delay was, perhaps, due to the disappearance of its initial Singaporean funder Rowsley Ltd. Neville was cryptic when asked about the change of backer, only saying that, “when you have been on a project for 15 years, you have to adapt”.

By the sounds of it, lining up a replacement was no mean feat. Neville tells me that one of the biggest disappointments of his post-football career came during the second lockdown when a deal – he will not say with whom – fell through.

“That was a moment where you thought, ‘woah, will this ever happen?’ It was almost as if the project was jinxed,” he says. Instead, they split the scheme in two and found separate backers to help deliver each in joint venture with Relentless.

Gary Neville’s football career


First senior appearance: Manchester United v Torpedo Moscow, Uefa Cup, September 1992

Minutes played for Manchester United: 50,166

Trophies won: 20

Senior appearances for England: 85 

Goals scored for club and country: 7

Final senior appearance: Manchester United v West Bromwich Albion, Premier League, January 2011

“The pandemic in some ways, while everything slowed down, I think it was quite important for us in the sense that it allowed us to stand still, reflect and split the site in two,” says Neville. “I think what we were trying to achieve, in terms of pulling the whole site together at once, was just too much.”

Phase one – the smaller of the two buildings – is being delivered with American investor KKR.

Bowmer and Kirkland began building work at the start of 2022 and the job is set to complete next year. Around 70 staff are currently on site for the contractor, with the team set to ramp up to 150 at its peak.

The second phase, delivered in partnership with Salboy, will be built by Domis, who will break ground in the coming weeks. It will contain a five-star hotel of 191 bedrooms and another 181 high-end apartments and will complete in early 2027. 

The core vision for St Michael’s that has been retained across its two iterations is Neville’s ambition to “raise standards” in hospitality, commercial and residential development in Manchester.

In his speech at the official launch of the development, Neville explained how this drive emerged from his experience travelling around the world: “The original vision came out of the end of my football career, where I had been fortunate enough to travel around the world to international cities and some of the most fantastic hotels in the world. I always came back to Manchester and asked, ‘why should Manchester not have more than one five-star hotel?’

“Why should we not have that aligned service element with the residential and commercial aspects in mixed-use developments? I wanted to raise the standards in products, services and design – that was always the aspiration for this site.”

We find it important to develop where we are passionate about, where we love living and where we are near to

Neville is tight-lipped about where Relentless goes after St Michael’s. Indeed it is not clear that he is totally sure himself. One thing he is clear on, though, is that the firm’s future lies in Greater Manchester.

“We have been offered the chance to look at development in other cities, but we are quite a tight team, more of a boutique style of developer,” he says. “I think we find it important to develop where we are passionate about, where we love living and where we are near to.”

In the next six months, Relentless will pivot to exploring “one or two” new developments, but Neville is keen not to overextend. “I don’t think we would ever have four or five on at once – we would have to grow the team at that point and we want to keep it quite tight,” he says. 

Tonight, though, Neville is making an exception to the Relentless rule, kicking back and enjoying a drink with his colleagues – in the pub he was once set to demolish – to celebrate a milestone for the St Michael’s development.

“Maybe tonight we will just have a pint,” he says, before Relentless chief executive Anthony Kilbride pipes in: “Tonight, we might just be relenting.”