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Paradise takes shape in city's largest building project

It is almost four years since work started on Birmingham’s largest building project. But, as Henry Carpenter reports, the patience asked of everyone who lives or works around the development looks soon to be rewarded.

The beginning of the end is surely in sight.

We are assured that Phase One of the Paradise Birmingham development will be completed by Christmas. This means that the first occupiers of the development will be moving in this year – all on schedule.

Which, to many, will be a blessed relief. The residents of, visitors to and motorists around the western fringes of the city centre have had their patience tested to the limits with the development of Paradise Birmingham.

For the best part of four years, since work started, the air has been filled with rubble dust and the noise from drills and machinery; the traffic has ground to a halt around Paradise Circus, with repercussions throughout the city centre and beyond.

It is little wonder then that reluctant acceptance gave way to impatience and perhaps a little anger to be followed by a beleaguered weariness (spot the similarities with Brexit). But maybe we can now add excitement to these emotions.

It was leader of Birmingham City Council, Councillor Ian Ward, who said earlier this year: “Paradise is an example of Birmingham delivering on its growth, skills and jobs agenda, and a huge vote of confidence in the city.

“Thanks to the hard work of a lot of people, the city continues to move forward and we are beginning to feel the very real benefits and economic uplift of projects like Paradise. But as well as creating and sustaining new jobs for the people of Birmingham, Paradise is also about restoring and improving connectivity for pedestrians across the city centre and providing a fitting environment for our historic civic buildings.”

So truthfully, will anyone care a hoot about the disruption and inconvenience if the £700 million development delivers on its own identification as the most important development the city has seen in a generation?

To recap, Paradise Birmingham is completely changing the profile of that area of the city centre between the end of Broad Street and the civic offices in Victoria Square. Three new public squares are being created, as are pedestrian links and a new public transport system, including the hugely-anticipated Midlands Metro extension.

The development will deliver offices, shops, bars, restaurants and a hotel within the 1.8 million sq ft set of new buildings, and some 17 million people are expected to pass through the site every year.

It is being run by Paradise Circus Limited Partnership, a private-public joint venture with Birmingham City Council, with private-sector funding managed by Hermes Investment Management. Property developer Argent oversee the building work.

There have been several key milestones along Paradise Birmingham’s timeline

In January, Two Chamberlain Square – the second building in the development – was topped out at a ceremony which saw a golden bolt installed into the steel frame at the top of the building by Cllr Ward who was joined by Rob Groves, regional director of Argent, and David Ellis, regional director of construction firm BAM.

Overlooking the Town Hall, Council House and Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Two Chamberlain Square sits at the heart of the Paradise development with direct access from the new public realm. An enhanced Chamberlain Square will open later this year along with the newly-completed Centenary Way.

As Mr Groves said at the time: “The topping out was a huge moment for both Paradise and Birmingham. We have achieved so many milestones over the past 10 years, but this one feels extra special and reflects the huge momentum behind this incredibly significant scheme.

“Rising above the challenges of the liquidation of Carillion at the beginning of 2018, the scheme continues at pace with both initial buildings advancing – 2019 will be even more significant with the completion of the first phase of Paradise bringing our first occupiers to the development.

“This will include the completion of the Phase One public realm that the people of Birmingham will be able to both witness and be part of.”

While the bulk of the floor space across the Paradise site will be taken up by offices, both hospitality and retail are also expected to be integral to the development.

So there was much excitement with the announcement of wine bar and restaurant Vinoteca – which currently operates five sites across central London –launching outside the capital for the first time with its arrival at Paradise Birmingham.

Vinoteca has taken 3,390 sq ft in Two Chamberlain Square fronting Chamberlain Square and Centenary Way, and is due to open early in 2020.

Charlie Young, co-founder of Vinoteca, said: “Paradise offers our brand an unbeatable location and commercial proposition right in the heart of Birmingham.”

Mr Groves said: “Bringing a critically-acclaimed wine bar and restaurant brand like Vinoteca to Birmingham really demonstrates our aspirations for Paradise. Our perfect mix of unbeatable location and top-quality design means we are the natural choice for innovative leisure retailers keen on reaching an audience of 17 million people a year.”

But it is unlikely any of these milestones will be greeted with more fanfare than the completion of Phase One at the end of this year.

One Chamberlain Square, designed by Eric Parry Architects and topped out in December 2017, is an eight-storey, 172,000 sq ft building fully let to professional services giant PwC which can increase its Birmingham headcount by 1,000 thanks to its move. As the first tenants of the Paradise site, this is a symbolically significant part of Phase One.

Phase Two of Paradise will see the largest building yet – the 280,000 sq ft One Centenary Way – due to start this year with a completion date of 2022, and with a 22-storey hotel to follow.

Finally, Phase Three will offer a range of commercial and mixed-use buildings across the northern part of the site, with the whole project expected to be completed in the mid 2020s.

So there’s still a long way to go until the last workman leaves the ongoing building site that is the Paradise Birmingham development.

But it’s a phase-by-phase process and hopefully the knowledge of functioning, tenanted buildings by the end of this year will make the bitter pill of disruption a great deal easier to swallow.

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