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Landlord’s works for entirely repurposing the Gravesend BHS have now been completed

Town centre retail demands have changed in recent years with drastic consequences. High street landlords have experienced the demise of many retailers and department stores and have had to respond.

When BHS went into administration in 2016 Coplan Estates was appointed by a retail investor Vabeld Ltd and worked alongside their agent Wrather Property to repurpose the unit. Although the building is owned freehold by Vabeld, it is an integral part of the St George’s Shopping Centre, owned by Gravesham Council, which brings along its own complexities when drawing in new tenants and carrying out the necessary construction works.

With no prospect of finding an alternative single tenant the immediate task was to get the unit cleared and let on a temporary basis to provide a useful income and cover the business rate position whilst marketing for long term tenants. The temporary letting with an independent furniture company was entered into in 2017. At the same time, we carried out extensive building surveys to inform the professional team of design constraints and understand the asbestos situation. We also carried out planning work and engaged with the local authority to explore options for alternative uses.

  • Landlord – Vabled Ltd
  • Construction Costs and Fees – £2,000,000
  • Building Area – 43,000 sq/ft

The building was in a sad state of repair and presented poorly. However, despite the challenges, we carried out an extensive negotiation and entered into an Agreement for Lease and subsequent formal Lease with Pure Gym. On the back of this letting the investor committed to a programme of extensive refurbishment works to prepare the building for multiple commercial tenants. Alternative uses included a potential residential element that we were exploring.

The works included removing all the fixtures and fittings of the former BHS store and then dealing with the extensive asbestos and other hazardous material many buildings of this age contain. A specific programme was established for notifications to the HSE, asbestos removal and subsequent testing regime to prove the building was safe for occupation. New drainage and an incoming services strategy for the building was then implemented alongside a major cut and carve to allow the gym use. New staircase, lifts, firestopping and structural reinforcements were carried out alongside the construction of a new switch room for the scheme built next to the UKPN substation which is located within the building curtilage.

Pure Gym now occupy 15,000 sq/ft arranged over ground and basement. Despite the landlord works to create the tenants shell being undertaken at the height of the pandemic we completed within the agreed timescales and the lease entered into in August 2020. Pure Gym then took possession and carried out their fit out with our assistance due to the complexities of the building and ensuring continuity of trade for the temporary furniture retailer.

In 2020 we negotiated and entered into the second Agreement for Lease with Instant Group acting on behalf of The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). This agreement was fast tracked, and landlord works/tenant fit out twin tracked to achieve the very aggressive opening date required by the DWP as this site was part of the government plan to manage the massive unemployment expected due to the COVID 19 pandemic.

We agreed to provide them with over 10,000 sq/ft of ground floor space whilst retaining two quality ground floor units for other potential occupiers. Large redundant mechanical and electrical plant alongside additional asbestos needed to be stripped out as this could not be achieved previously with the temporary furniture tenant in place. An incoming water main for commercial use and connections to the new switch panel was also required alongside extensive communications infrastructure installation. The lease was entered into in February 2021. The DWP then launched the unit as a Job Centre and successfully opened it to the public during the summer of 2021.

The final phase of the project includes 13,500 sq/ft on ground and all the upper floors as a leisure use for Panic Rooms Escape Ltd. The lease completed in November 2021, and they are currently fitting out. The final 3,500 sq/ft on ground floor fronting The New Road which is the main throughfare in Gravesend has been let to the ‘UK fastest growing restaurant chain opening 78 new restaurants in 2022’ and very much a global restaurant operator German Doner Kebab (GDK) which is a high-quality sit in and take away offer producing ‘Gourmet Kebabs’.

With Panic Rooms and GDK proposing an opening date of the summer of this year we have now achieved a fully let building on long term leases. We continue to monitor tenant’s fit outs and providing ongoing technical advice to allow Landlord Consents to be issued.