One of the UK's leading names in commercial development and urban regeneration has been named as the preferred bidder for the St Nicholas House site. Aberdeen City Council has selected Muse Developments to redevelop the site which previously housed the authority's corporate headquarters.
Using an innovative funding scheme the firm, backed by Aviva, will create a mixed-use development on the brownfield site. The council will lease the development from Muse and receive a proportion of the rental profits from tenants for 35 years, after which the site and development will transfer into council ownership.
This option allows the authority to retain a long-term interest in the site, ensuring that the quality of the development is maintained.
Proposals for the site are indicative. Some technical details are yet to be resolved and design work to be finalized, in discussion with the council and the planning authority.
The current Muse proposal is for a development comprising linked buildings, the tallest of which will be 10 storeys from the level at Flourmill Lane, compared to St Nicholas House which is 15 storeys from that elevation. It will house offices, a boutique hotel, cafes, restaurants and shops, as well as creating a significant amount of public space and pedestrianizing Broad Street. Provost Skene's House is included in the proposals and there are plans to create a garden area.
Council leader Councillor Barney Crockett said: "Today's decision to appoint Muse as the preferred bidder for the site puts us in a strong position to not only press on with regenerating the city center, but also to reap both the short and long-term benefits of the scheme. It's an historic decision by the Council and it's a great one for Aberdeen.
"We promised a modest civic square and this exciting development will deliver that and more, creating a lively new public space in the heart of the city.
"The new development, referred to as Marischal Square by the developer, will be created using the local supply chain, local architecture, engineering and design firms, and local labor, creating apprenticeship opportunities, as well as the long-term job prospects delivered by the businesses housed in the development.
"The Council recognized the importance of ensuring there would be a swift and smooth transfer from demolition to construction, and that the site would not be land-banked and left stagnant and undeveloped for a number period of years in the way that some sites, in other cities have been. This decision ensures that the site will be developed as soon as possible."
Depute leader Councillor Marie Boulton, who chaired the St Nicholas House Working Group, said: "We've selected the bid which offers the best value for the citizens of Aberdeen, not only by looking at the financial and economic implications, but also the potential public realm benefits of the development, how well it matches with planning guidance for the area, the impact it will have on heritage and culture, and the bidders' track record in delivering this type of scheme.
"As well as returning Aberdeen's stunning skyline to the way it once was by keeping building heights relatively modest, the development offers an interesting mix of building sizes and uses, including with glass-roofed courtyards to allow people to enjoy the outdoor public areas even when the weather is poor. It also provides lively mixture of ground-floor premises which will ensure that it provides opportunities throughout the evening as well as through the day.
"I'm delighted that we've been able to agree on a preferred bidder and particularly pleased that this development will be ready in time to meet our needs for the City of Culture.
Chief executive Valerie Watts said: "The level of interest from major, well-established players in property development across Scotland, the UK and beyond, shows that Aberdeen is continuing to attract widespread attention as a city which is continuing to flourish and grow despite the recession.
"Aberdeen is a busy, thriving city which has a continuing high demand for good quality office space and hotel rooms. This development will help to meet that need, bringing an estimated extra 3,000 people per day into the area and breathing new life into it.
The redevelopment of this site will reinforce the message that Aberdeen is the place to invest, live and visit."
Muse Developments regional director Scotland, Stephen Turner said: "Muse Developments and its partners Aviva Investors are delighted to have been given the opportunity to work with Aberdeen City Council on Marischal Square, a high profile regeneration project which we believe will deliver a significant and lasting benefit not only to the Broad Street area, but to the city of Aberdeen.
"Our development team has created a vibrant design which respects the heritage of the location and opens it to wider use. The buildings include exemplar sustainable offices, high quality public realm - including a new civic square between the scheme and Marischal College - a 250 bed apart-hotel and new retail/restaurant space which is designed to create a new mixed-use quarter for the city.
"In structuring our proposal to Aberdeen City Council, the objective has been to ensure that our proposals are deliverable, work can begin shortly after the demolition of St Nicholas House completes, and that the whole project can be delivered in a single phase. Aviva Investors has committed to fully fund the project which underlines our ability to deliver.
"Muse has a great track record of delivering similar joint venture regeneration projects throughout the UK and is delighted to be presented with this opportunity to do the same for Aberdeen."
A public consultation lasting 12 weeks will be carried out before any planning application is submitted.
The site will be developed in a single phase and Muse envisages completion during 2016, tying in with Aberdeen's aspirations to be UK City of Culture in 2017 – assuming a straight transfer to construction following completion of the demolition of St Nicholas House.
Source: Aberdeen City Council