MANSION --- Foreign Correspondent: Will London's Soho Lose Its Mojo? --- A
Fri 01 Nov 2013
MANSION --- Foreign Correspondent: Will London's Soho Lose Its Mojo? --- A number of high-end residential
projects are moving into this quirky district known for its vibrant night life ---- By Ruth Bloomfield
Soho is perhaps best known as the throbbing center of London's night life -- with pubs and restaurants packed
until the small hours with intellectuals, poets and artists (not to mention tourists and office workers). But now,
developers are working to remake the area into a high-end residential district appealing to affluent professionals.
A new study by real-estate agency Wetherell reports that 145 new homes are in Soho's development pipeline,
compared with 68 last year. The number is significant considering the district's dense network of narrow streets.
Peter Wetherell, managing director of the agency, said two things are fueling the boom: strong demand for
central London housing and heightened interest in the new Crossrail underground train service at Tottenham
Court Road. Projected to open in 2018, the train line will provide swift, direct links to Heathrow Airport and the
City, London's financial district.
The property boom in prime central London -- places like Knightsbridge, Mayfair and Kensington -- is rippling
outward, and prices in Soho are now soaring. The district's average property price now stands at about $2.69
million, up a notable 55% in 2012, the Wetherell report found.
Zoe Mercer, manager of residential development at Jackson-Stops & Staff estate agents, estimated that prices in
the area now average between GBP 1,400 and GBP 1,500, about $2,250 to $2,425, per square foot. "It is now
higher in value, per square foot, than neighboring Marylebone, once considered a far more prestigious location,"
New developments include the Hat Factory, two Victorian factory buildings converted into eight apartments,
including a 2,350-square-foot duplex with three bedrooms on the market for $4.45 million. Original features
include high ceilings and full-height doors, according to the listing agent, E.A. Shaw. The unit is located on the
ground floor with a small courtyard.
Another high-profile project is Saint Martins Lofts. Thirteen apartments are being built on the site of the former
Central St. Martins College of Art and Design (alumni include fashion designer John Galliano and sculptor Antony
Gormley) on Charing Cross Road. The development is about half sold, with remaining units priced from $3.68
Over 1.2 million square feet of office space in London's West End, much of it in Soho, was converted into
residential housing in 2012, a 168% increase over 2011, according to property consultants H2SO. And the flow of
new projects shows no signs of abating.
Later this year developer PMB Holdings will apply for building permits to redevelop a site on Berwick Street. It
hopes to replace offices and shops on the somewhat rundown road with a mixed-use project that includes a hotel,
16 apartments and a roof garden, along with plans to improve the road's historic street market. Work is scheduled
to begin next year.
Separately, Barratt London, one of the U.K.'s largest house builders, and developer United House are joining on
an almost $95 million plan to demolish Trenchard House, a 1930s former hostel for unmarried police officers, and
replace it with a 10-story apartment building with a basement restaurant. Of the 78 units, 65 will be designated
affordable housing. Work is expected to start later this year.
One concern of some locals is that the area will become too gentrified. If major chain stores move in and replace
independent shops, the area's quirky character could be ruined.
Mervyn Metcalf has been living in Soho since 2001, moving into one of the first apartment developments in the
area. "It is liberating living somewhere where you are close to some of the most famous streets in the world, and
where you don't have to worry about traveling home," he said. Mr. Metcalf, a 41-year-old managing director of
boutique investment bank Dean Street Advisers, concedes there are downsides. Noisy garbage trucks collecting
empty bottles from nearby restaurants can be an unwanted early morning wake-up call.
And despite concerted efforts to clean it up, Soho's more unsavory role as the historic hub of London's sex trade
remains a fact of life in the area.
Still, he remains in thrall to Soho. "On my street you have got two private-members clubs, two five-star hotels,
juice bars, coffee shops, at least one sex shop and a strip club. There is nowhere else in the world where you
would get that mix," Mr. Metcalf said.
Adam Challis, head of residential research at property consultants Jones Lang LaSalle, said that Soho is in the
grips of "seismic change" and that the current building boom could result in the loss of small creative office space
and entertainment venues, killing the area's bohemian appeal.
"The challenge for property developers is to create new spaces while retaining the character that will attract and
retain creative industries," he said.
Regardless, some residents may not like the 24-hour night life, its lack of green space and the perception of
crime and sleaze. Thus, few families are likely to venture there.
"Buyers should think carefully before opting for Soho," said Nicholas Ayre, managing director of home-buying
agency Home Fusion. "It is nonstop busy at night until around 4 a.m. [when] the streets are jet washed and bins
Laurence Glynne, a partner at LDG estate agents, says that most of his clients tend to be singles and childless
couples. They are relatively young, averaging about 35, but at a level of success where they can afford upscale
residences. He also notes increasing interest from overseas buyers, particularly Europeans and Russians -- not
oligarchs themselves but their sons and daughters.
"Soho is not really a family place, and I do not worry that it will become too gentrified as these kind of buyers
move in," said Mr. Glynne. "It is still the place for go for night life, and I can't see that ever changing."
Soho for Sale
Two bedrooms, two bathrooms
The apartment measures 1,161 square feet and is located in a Georgian building dating from the early 18th
century. Original features include working fireplaces; it also has a private roof terrace.
Agent: Marsh & Parsons
Three bedrooms, two bathrooms
A newly converted 1,883-square-foot apartment is located within a historic townhouse and overlooks a park. The
property has high ceilings plus original paneling and a roof terrace.
Agent: E.A. Shaw
Paramount House, Wardour Street
Three bedrooms, three bathrooms
This apartment in the former headquarters of Paramount Studios measures 1,893 square feet. Features include
engineered oak flooring, a custom kitchen, study and roof terrace.
Agent: E.A. Shaw