Propertyshe podcast: Harry Handelsman Founder and CEO of Manhattan Loft Corporation

Posted on 23 March 2021

The over-population, the density, that this and the lack of care, and I am not saying it happens everywhere at all, you know, but where it does happen, I think it’s a real tragedy and it’s a tragedy not only for London but for many cities because developers simply say well, you know you want to do this, this and that, give us more density which basically means I can go to the Far East and I can sell another hundred thousand square feet.  Okay, great.    

Susan Freeman

Hi, I’m Susan Freeman, welcome back to our PropertyShe podcast series brought to you by Mishcon de Reya in association with the London Real Estate Forum where I get to interview some of the key influencers in the world of real estate and the built environment. 

Today I am delighted to welcome Harry Handelsman.   Harry is the Founder and CEO of Manhattan Loft Corporation.  The company has over the last thirty years, conjured vibrant communities within London’s most famous and forgotten postcodes.  Harry was born in Germany and raised in France and Belgium before moving to Canada and then to New York.  It was in New York, and more specifically, in the Soho district, that gave Harry the idea and the impetus to start the Manhattan Loft Corporation.  When he moved to the UK in the late 1980s, Harry already knew that he wanted to bring to London the loft style living he had experienced in New York.  From Summer Street Lofts in Clerkenwell back 1992 to Manhattan Loft Gardens in Stratford in 2018, taking in Soho, Bankside, West India Quay, Notting Hill, Chelsea, King’s Cross, Fitzrovia and Hackney in between, Harry continues to challenge conventions and to identify new opportunities throughout London.  2010 saw the start of a four year redevelopment of the Grade II listed Marylebone Fire Station on Chiltern Street W1, along with US hotelier, Andre Balazs.  Preceding the Firehouse was the restoration of one of Britain’s most iconic Grade I style listed buildings, the 1870’s gothic revival of St Pancras.  A ten year labour of love for Harry.  Manhattan Loft Corporation, together with their partner, Lord Fink, kept the ownership of the 245 room St Pancras Renaissance Hotel and continues to take an active role alongside the hotel management.  He was also behind the Hackney Fashion Hub, a major 100 million designer fashion outlet district in Hackney, designed by leading architect, David Adjaye.  Harry is a Director at Ealing Film Studios, the oldest continuously working studio facility for film production in the world.  Harry’s most recent project is The Stratford in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, E20.  It aims to provide world-class architecture, hospitality and art to encourage a new generation of long and short-term guests to make the East End their home.  Harry’s work and passion for architecture was recognised when in 2012 he received an Honorary Fellowship from the RIBA.  Harry is also an avid and knowledgeable collector of modern art and sits on the boards of a number of charitable trusts and he is also a trustee of the Royal Albert Hall and the South London Gallery.  So now we are going to hear from Harry Handelsman on his vision and his unique approach to real estate developments. 

So Harry, welcome and thank you so much for joining us today.  You’ve got the most amazing backdrop there, where are you speaking to us from?

Harry Hendelsman

So, I am in my penthouse at Manhattan Loft Gardens, a development that I completed about two years ago in Stratford and frankly, you see it over Zoom, I see it live, all the time, and I must say, the beauty about living over here, and I’ve always liked views to me are almost as important or you might, you know, when I looked at Bankside, I was at the penthouse and there was a wonderful view over there, my home at Hyde Park Gardens, I look over the park but having London at my feet, is a real privilege. 

Susan Freeman

Well, it is an extraordinary view, extraordinary view and we’ll come back to Stratford later on in the conversation but let’s go back to what brought you to London to set up Manhattan Loft which I think was around 1990?

Harry Hendelsman

Yeah, 1992 to be exact.  I mean, what brought me to London, what made me set up Manhattan Loft is, you know, London is a great city, it always has been a great city, you know, and when anybody thinks about culture, about a certain type of architect, charm, individuals, I think London was there but bizarrely, you know, in 1992, would I have thought about London being the absolute capital in the world?  Probably not.  Having spent much time in New York, you know, I always thought that London was sort of… that New York was sort of where things were happening, there was a pace, there was a this, there was a that and then when you wanted to enjoy the beauty, the serenity, the gorgeous and all the, you know, I had a place in Paris, Paris was there.  So, for me, London was sort of this rather undiscovered gem that people obviously everybody knew about it and when it comes from theatre or museums, it was compared to none.  But when it came to food or activity, you know, besides pubs etcetera you know, it wasn’t really, I don’t think it was that exciting so when I came to London you know I fell in love with the place and I liked it, I liked its eccentricity and being given the opportunity to identify a building you know that’s what I wanted to do and I thought and I found the most beautiful building in London which was in Summer Street in Clerkenwell and I decided to buy it but, you know, 1992 for some of you who were alive then or the ones that were that might remember, it was an absolute recession, it was absolutely horrible, everything was for sale, this was indeed Summer Street was something that was… came out of receivership, the bank was selling, it was the Bank of South West Australia, they had to lend about £3.2 million, I picked it up for £435,000.  I’m not necessarily saying £435,000 at time it was, at the time I’m not sure if it was a bargain but it gave me an opportunity to really introduce the concept of loft living to something that London wasn’t all about and what do I mean by that?  What I mean is, one of the things that I always found relatively strange about London is the habit of Londoners at the time, was to live in places of comfort, you know you lived somewhere and then you travel to work, of course there were exceptions, you know, you could go to Mayfair and people lived in Mayfair, people worked in Mayfair but those parts were relatively infrequent, you know and I am not a particular person that loves the commute, you know, I mean the English do like to commute and you have people working that’s travelled or used to travel before Covid an hour or an hour and a half and that was just, hey it’s a journey, we’re quite comfortable, it’s that I quite like being 10/15 minutes walking distance ideally away from my office.  So what I wanted to do is, there were two things that I was interested in, I was interested obviously in producing this amazing block living which people didn’t know and I called it Manhattan Loft Corporation.  Today, loft is sort of synonymous with style and everything and then it was synonymous with an attic and its not an attic, it’s an exciting I think it’s probably where you put the thing you don’t want to look at for long time, that’s where you store it, more like a storeroom.  So, you know, and that’s why I called it Manhattan Loft Corporation, to give it the relevance because at the time there was Churngold 8.33 Philadelphia and when people asked me what is a Manhattan Loft, I used to use that as an analogy and bizarrely not despite it being a recession, you know the places soared because we offered something that was, that didn’t exist, I mean lofts in fairness existed in London by squatters, you know, I used to have friends of mine, you know artists, architects, you know that used to take these derelict buildings or warehouses and just converted them and just lived there until such time as they were thrown out but as a commercial enterprise it never really existed and that’s really what we did and, you know I explored in New York and we brought it over here and that’s the beginning of Manhattan Loft Corporation. 

Susan Freeman

It’s a great story.  So, I mean, you were a pioneer in a number of ways because I can’t imagine that at the time Clerkenwell was, you know, top of the list of places that people wanted to live and one of the themes, I mean sort of looking at what you’ve done over the years is sort of repurposing sort of unloved buildings when a lot of other developers would have just, you know knocked them down and started again, I mean it’s interesting that this approach is now becoming, you know more popular because of sustainability and people are understanding that actually it’s better to try and reuse what you’ve got than, you know than knock it down and start again and I just remember sort of being so impressed that you, I think you were again a pioneer in the use of brand in real estate, you know, at a point, you know when people in real estate didn’t actually understand the concept of brands, there was sort of always a very strong Manhattan Loft brand, I mean, where did that come from?

Harry Hendelsman

I mean, I think the branding became a coincidence, I mean what I wanted to do was when you try to sell something, especially something that is novel, you know I didn’t want to sell it off a typical residential sales brochure, what I wanted to do is come and live with me because what is happening in the area, the lifestyle, this is what we are doing and even my first brochure, Summer Street, which is still quite an… an amazing piece of art, it’s photography as opposed to writing, it’s this.  So, when you introduce something like that, you sort of, you know you almost get sort of sucked in or you start going on that treadmill and that treadmill introduces you to other people and people become appreciative of what you are doing and PR or journalists want to write about it, you know, architects, you know I used my building for exhibits, you know, art exhibits etcetera and that just became sort of a natural flow and, you know, it wasn’t necessarily me knocking at doors, it was also people coming to me, hey I understand you’ve got a great building, can we do something alongside with you so, it just became a natural phenomena and I think at the end of the day, you know I sell because of what I love and the interesting thing you were saying about repurposing buildings, the reason I develop the buildings is because I love the buildings, you know, it wasn’t just that you know, yes from sustainability perspective and all the rest of it, of course, you know of course it is important but you know in 1992 people didn’t necessarily consider that but for example, the build, my first building that I bought, it was designed by the architect that designed Centre Court at Wimbledon but the feature of it is, Clerkenwell in the 1920s, 1930s, was where the newspapers were printed and what made this building, this building was actually where the ink was tested for the newspapers and it, most of it was north facing but it had the largest windows from floor to ceiling that you could possibly have on the planning regulations at the time and the reason for that is because the northern light gives you the most correct light of something so they needed to see their ink, the colours of their ink, in order to be able to judge if it’s the right colour, the wrong colour and I got the benefit of those enormous windows and that’s what became the attraction then it was turned into sort of a loft development, there were plenty of other buildings that frankly speaking maybe they should be torn down instead of developed, at least at the time so I was always very particular about the buildings that I chose and it wasn’t just the conservation of it, it was also that I felt, because of my experience and because of things I’ve seen in the past, there are some amazing old buildings that look actually a lot better than what residential developers were doing at the time. 

Susan Freeman

So, I think I mean talking about buildings that you loved, I think we have to turn to St Pancras Chambers and I think the last time I interviewed you was in 2013 to talk about St Pancras Chambers and it’s I mean you restored a Grade I listed gothic building and I mean I think I mean you’ll tell us but I think you worked on it for I mean it could have been 16 years I think you’ve described it as a labour of love with all the obstacles that were thrown at you, you know in the process so, can you tell us a little bit about how that came about and the difficulties.

Harry Hendelsman

Well, I mean I think I mean the way it came about was, I mean obviously St Pancras was this gothic phenomena that was in the heart of London, not necessarily a heart that most would go to take a blood check, they used to go maybe to construct for other reasons but the building was there and the building was magnificent, there’s no doubt about it all and one just becomes aware of buildings like that just like you become aware of great buildings everywhere or great parks or statues or whatever.  What happened was, I was approached to get involved with St Pancras because the developer which at the time was B A Linton, were looking for a residential partner.  They wanted to have a hotel partner which was going to be with Brett and we wanted to be… they wanted a residential partner and I guess at the time, we talk about 1995, we had built… developed a reputation of doing unusual, interesting things and when I was approached about it, I said ‘oh my god, to become a participant in this building, that’s super exciting’ and what they offered me was literally the roof to redevelop with one floor below and I was smiling to myself because I figured I finally am able now to develop the British loft, i.e. the roofs, the attics, the derelict sites and when you went into that space, it was just a rabbit warren, it wasn’t rooms, it was spaces, tiny space and everything else, obviously understood the restriction because of Grade I listed, it was Grade I* listed which is even far more important, you know it’s like the most highest listing you going to have plus you’ve got the Victorian Society so, life wasn’t necessarily easy and for me, it was just, you know, for me to have an opportunity to be part of it, I didn’t really look at the financials, I didn’t really look at anything else, it was a relatively modest development, I mean it’s a huge roof and one floor but, you know, I figured okay I think we can do it and I think if we did something really beautiful about, in that building, I think that would be sufficient interesting.  Now, the process took incredibly long, for many, many, you know, and that is primarily because of the importance of the building, the building was Grade I* listed.  Now I was obviously with Brett recognised that in order for them to make any sense out of the development, they just couldn’t refurbish the existing spaces and turn it into a hotel because it would be far too small, it wouldn’t make any sense so they needed to have a bigger space so, behind the building, behind what we now call Hansom Hall, there was a space that was available to us and we wanted, and where they could actually extend the hotel by another 200 rooms because they needed that in order to create validity and the upheaval about that extension because people, some really loved the building, they didn’t want an extension or build something attached directly to the building, you know, just very 17.53, they didn’t and indeed we had to mimic the same designs so that took many, many years to get a planning consent.  It took so long that B A Linton pulled out because they were going to do the retail in the station and decided to, not to do it, so Whitbread became the main partner for the hotel with us and then Whitbread decided, well, first of all, Whitbread asked us, look Harry, of all those floors that are listed in the front building, it doesn’t really, commercially as a hotel it doesn’t really work, would you mind to take on another floor or two and I said absolutely, I’d be more than delighted because I started to love the building and the sort of spaces and obviously the attic was one thing which was challenging and beautiful but the rest of it, yes I understand the corridors, I understand all of that, I knew I could build something in those spaces and I said sure, I take whatever you wish and that’s what we undertook and you know it was a great relationship and obviously I wasn’t very much involved with the hotel because that wasn’t really my remit and we were very happy with doing it but what happened is, Whitbread decided to sell, they were going to build a Marriott there and had the franchise of the Marriott hotel for the UK except in London where it was able to operate independently as well so they could build their own hotels and at that time, I completed with a partner who is 19.34 were Balfour West India Quay, Hotel Marriott and the Tower, I was more responsible for the Tower and WB were responsible for the hotel but we obviously established an element of a relationship and when they decided to sell the franchise back to Marriott, I no longer had a partner for my hotel so all I could do was the apartment but obviously the refurbishment and you know it became quite a focus, everybody wanted to get involved in it and people wanted this old building now that somebody finally decided to do something, they wanted to rush it and I was given the choice of either finding a hotel partner potentially but then, you know you have to go through this whole, you have to go for another bid and all the… it was a rather complex and complicated situation all because we were so involved because we took the lead in terms of the refurbishment and looking at and everything else and we decided, we spoke to Marriott and said look Marriott are you happy for us to do it and they said we would be delighted for you to do it because we don’t want to lose our position over there.  So we decided, you know we spoke to Ernst Young and said look we’ll do the hotel as well so that’s sort of the genesis of what happened and then the challenges and then the trial, the tribulation, the frustration, the, you know, Grade I listed building, English Heritage, Victorian Society, do this discovered the millions and tens of millions of pounds that were never understood initially that one needed to spend, you know that came into the equation so it became quite a challenge but I think as a result of all that, I think one is really you know discovered a treasure and I imagine if somebody wants to go deep into the ocean to discover treasure, it all does take quite a bit of money before you find all those treasures that one is able to bring to the surface so yes it was a deep dig with a great result. 

Susan Freeman

It’s amazing, I mean I remember when you were going through that and I think you must have gone through various property cycles in the process and of course at the time, you know King’s Cross, you know hadn’t been developed and so it really was a labour of love and I remember going to see the old St Pancras Chambers building before you started and literally, I mean you could see that bits of the old sort William Morris wallpaper were still there and the whole place was damp and you know you could see it had potential but, you know, huge, a huge challenge so, and are you still involved in the running of the hotel and the hospitality?

Harry Hendelsman

More and more, I mean I think you know obviously Marriott is managing it but we are very much involved, you know, because at the end of the day, Marriott is a brilliant organisation, large, great, has got the biggest you know, the most bedrooms globally than anyone else but I think at the end of the day it’s a global corporate albeit the management is really, really very good but you know understanding the parts, trying to make it happen and right now we’re going through a major refurbishment, we are about to start on major refurbishment of what is referred to as the Booking Office which is the place where people used to pick up their tickets which was the restaurant before but we are turning it into the most beautiful space in London, hopefully.  I’ll invite you… for the end of Covid, then you can come and join me for a drink there. 

Susan Freeman

That would be fantastic.  So, just turning to another listed building, the Firehouse, the old Marylebone Fire Station on Chiltern Street which you partnered with Andre Balazs on and created the amazing Chiltern Firehouse Restaurant so, how did that come about?

Harry Hendelsman

Well, I mean, I live at Hyde Park Gardens so, you know, so Bayswater, really near Marylebone and to be fair, Marylebone had its High Street and the High Street was sort of, I thought it was cooler before it became a bit more commercial, well you know I think how do we really invested a lot of time into trying to turn it into something at the beginning and now it’s become a little bit more of a commercial street but it, you know, it’s still a bit of a destination and you know, the space is great, you know everything around is great etcetera and what happened was, I was also kind of bemused by the fact that you know when you are in that part of town, everything seemed to have happened south of Oxford Street, you know, i.e. Mayfair, Soho etc and yet in Marylebone, Marylebone was the place where you lived, you may get some offices, you had some this, you had some… a nice High Street etcetera and I found it quite honestly bizarre and a friend of mine, Molly Brocklehurst, she told me look Harry, would you be interested in having a look at a Firehouse on Chiltern Street and I said of course, I would love to because they were having a conversation, ?25.01 conversation potentially to do something with Malmaison at the time and, you know, it would have been a great, I’m sure it would have been a great, it would have had a potential but I really felt now this finding opportunity to do something that puts Marylebone on the map and I remember the conversation that I had with the 25.25 and I said look well the value we are going to add to you, portfolio is going to be immense.  Now, at the time my experience as a hotelier wasn’t great, I mean yes I, you know, I was in the process of completing, it was near completed St Pancras and I was sort of looking, you know who would be the best operator I can potentially find and I was in dialogue with Andre Balazs to try to find a standard and in fact we bid for building but we didn’t get it, you know we came in second and it’s the Corinthia Hotel, you know we were looking to potentially put a standard in.  I remember telling Andre you know, Andre I think we might have lost a jewel because we under bid and we were the under bidders but I think I’ve found a gem and I brought him and we looked at it and frankly speaking, it was just as incredible find, you know, it was really something that has charm and an outdoor space that really gives an opportunity and also I love Chiltern Street, I mean Chiltern Street has a great Greggs and the shops at the time that was in there, it was also a destination, it was local, it was fun, it was eccentric, it was sort of consensually what, what London is all about, you know, a sort of a mix between Jermyn Street and this street and that street but it had all these kind of artisan kind of shops and I figured to create a destination within that, you know for Londoners, you know to come to enjoy, to savvy and I think people do like, you know once upon a time, you used to eat in restaurants, you didn’t go to hotels but in fact if you create something as beautiful that is a boutique, that is fantastic and then you get that kind of transient crowd that comes and they stay for a week, they stay for the two weeks, they stay for a couple of days, it just adds a certain flavour to the downstairs and the rest is history. 

Susan Freeman

Well it was an amazing success so hopefully it will be opening again soon and…

Harry Hendelsman

We are planning opening April 12th, you know we have outside space and yeah, we can.

Susan Freeman

Another place we can have a drink Harry, I’ll look forward to it.  So, let’s talk a little bit about the most recent project, so you are sitting there I think on the 40th floor of…

Harry Hendelsman

…actually, I mean it’s at the 40th entrance, I’m on the 41st.

Susan Freeman

41st floor, okay, and it all looks pretty amazing so, what brought you to Stratford and what was the vision?

Harry Hendelsman

Okay, so Stratford, you know, what brought me to Stratford frankly is because I was asked by XCI if I would undertake to do the development at the time they were looking to do it in time for the Olympics so that’s not a mystery and frankly I had zero interest and sort of came to the side.  And the reason I undertook this development is, you know, there are a lot of developers in London and a lot of very good developers in London, right, but I think a lot of them a strong motivation is to make money and very much part of the reason is also because they are public companies so they have a big responsibility to their shareholders.  I work with a family trust, that doesn’t mean that I have no responsibility to the people I am responsible for but I probably have a little bit more latitude and really what I have realised and I mentioned West India Quay before, in 2001 I completed the highest residential tower, privately developed residential tower, obviously the Barbican was there beforehand but that was a public building as opposed to this and it was building something very specific in mind, I looked at my clientele which I thought would be US primarily because of the proximity to Canary Wharf obviously and in my mind in my design, in my interiors and everything else, I looked at what is the best of New York so everything was about size, slightly more generous, slightly more this, slightly more that and it was a great success, I mean people moved and I think people still do, the few that I know that are still living there or that I am still in touch with, really enjoy it.  But since then, London, like many other cities, have been covered with these phallic towers of different shapes all over the place where most of it is about density because the denser you develop, the more you can sell and because of the London from 1992 when it was sort of a bit of an… maybe not the prime city in the world but was sort of interesting to 2000 plus when it became this real you know, firstly it was you know there’s the financial centre and very much a financial centre, the artists, loads of artists, the YBA, all the rest, all of them were around in London and there was really alive, there’s a real joy so and it attracts people and then also at a later date what also happened was it reinvented itself as a, very much of a tech centre, you know, and it was never technology centre before, you know, you know there was San Francisco, there was Bangalore, there was Tel Aviv and even Europe, you could have said Hamburg and places like that, well Berlin was slightly more interesting but London really because that’s the power of the people and the attraction of the place and I really felt that it’s time for someone actually to build something not as a form of just simply a revenue but to create a community within a building, you know make, facilitate interaction for people to interact with something and my brief to SOM was I really want you to build me the most beautiful building in the world, residential tower and then I changed it from the world to Europe whereby people have the ability of sort of interacting with, I said I want outdoor spaces, I want this, I want that, now why Stratford?  You know, does it make sense?  And frankly speaking, at the time it probably doesn’t make sense but what I also realised is and I’m speaking from experience, you know, be it St Pancras, be it Clerkenwell, be it Soho, be it Bankside, unless somebody grabs and sees that you can actually lift the criteria, the mix, you know other people, you know a hospital will want to be safe, you know if something sells at £500 a square foot or might go up to £550/560 but beyond that, how do I know I’m going to get somebody coming there and you know sometimes it takes someone to show an example, oh well if he can do it, I can do it better and therefore all of a sudden the areas become and there’s nothing wrong with affordable, I’m not at all denied but Stratford does have affordable, it wasn’t the lack of it and I really wanted to create and I think it’s going to become very much a catalyst of upgrading London areas just like I did in the past in Clerkenwell and everything else.  Now, you know people say Clerkenwell, Bankside, said but that’s so obvious, well it certainly it might have been very obvious but a hundred years or fifty years before I came along, despite it being obvious, nobody else did it and I think what is happening over here is I’m just looking out, you know, so one of my reason, you mentioned early on, I love my views, I really always have loved views, those are important and beyond a view but what do I  see, I see parks, I see Victoria Park, I see the marshes, I see the this, and I’m living here right now and I really feel that it was in this part of the world there’s a certain energy, you know the people living in my block are average age because I know that it’s about 30 year rental, so and you can sort of see a sense of community and obviously that has been disrupted with Covid because I’ve got a hotel which was doing well, I’ve got a restaurant but even my restaurant, Allegra which is fantastic but you also have to come for dinner there, actually I would suggest a lunch as well, is you know we’re fully booked, we’re opening in Stratford and within the next six weeks of opening, you know the thing’s fully booked, why, because of quality so what was considered inaccessible today has actually become quite accessible but I think in order to achieve and to get what you want, you have to create great things because you can get away with mediocrity in the areas that are already popular, you can get away with mediocrity potentially if it’s very affordable but if you want to be expensive and if you want to do something, you have to spend the money and that’s what we did. 

Susan Freeman

And it’s a beautiful, I mean it’s a beautiful building, I mean obviously we can’t see it now, you know we can see the view outside but what’s also pretty amazing about Stratford is how close it actually is to you know for instance the West End and…

Harry Hendelsman

So close, I mean I cycle here, right so it takes me from Hyde Park it takes me about 40 minutes but before that, you know I’ve got a train from Lancaster Gate arriving in 25 minutes.  Because of St Pancras when very often, you know I take the Javelin, I’m there in 6, 7 minutes.  6 minutes from St Pancras, 7 minutes to get here because the train has to slow down a bit earlier before it reached the station.  But it is 7 minutes so literally I leave my apartment here or my office you know where I am temporarily and I arrive in St Pancras in the hotel in under 15 minutes, from leaving an apartment, arriving at my destination, so if you were for example to work at Google, Facebook, Universal, you could be leaving, because I know when the train leaves that you know, and it leaves every 15 minutes, so I don’t want to arrive at the platform 10 minutes before the train arrives, I arrive a minute before, 2 minutes before, then I know the journey will never take me longer than 7 minutes because that’s just how long it takes.  So within 9 minutes I am there, well from the 40th floor it probably takes another 30 seconds to get down to the ground floor but from others it takes slightly less and you know so it’s a very, very comfortable and easy commute but more importantly, especially post-Covid, now you are in an area where you can breathe, where you can hang out, you know on Sunday, you know and you also have this sort of local artisan and then you are literally minutes from Hackney Wick which is sort of the cool east London etcetera so being living here, I’m kind of spoilt. 

Susan Freeman

Yes, and I think you know we tend to forget with London how you know close some areas are if they are well connected by transport and, Harry you were talking about how London was when you started the business and what it’s become and obviously we have now had a year of Covid lockdowns, we’re just coming out of those, what do you think we need to do to keep London up there, you know as this top, global destination?

Harry Hendelsman

Well, first of all, is it a top global destination?  I mean, that is the first important word, I mean I think it should be, I think it has everything for it and I think the most important things are its people, I think you know I think I love the culture over here, I love the mix, I think if people are leaving, they are leaving for reasons whereby they economically they are better off somewhere else, it’s not, you know people don’t leave London because they want to live in a different city, they leave because of a different need, I mean obviously it depends on the age and all the rest of it.  I think London’s absolutely great but I think London needs a real purpose.  London needs to be, I mean what is great about London are its people and its ambition, now what is very interesting is that Mitterrand basically bankrupted Paris with his Grands Projets but the reality without the Grands Projets, you know the Louvre, the 38.10 and all Paris would no longer have been Paris.  Yes it’s 38.14 and everything else so I think what is important is that the infrastructure, that this really should happen and everything, you know why would London from being a tertiary place in the field of creative industry, you know come almost to the forefront, it’s because of its attraction, you know. 

Susan Freeman

So, Harry, if you were Mayor of London, what would you do?  What would the first things be that you would do?

Harry Hendelsman

You know, living though a pandemic, I think it’s very, very difficult and you know, having the result of a pandemic, yes, you have to save lives and yes you have to recognise it and I think even then it’s just all those things are absolutely great, I think those things are really, really important but I think what is really important is don’t slow down, become aggressive, continue, make sure, try to do something and to be honest, you know, there’s a lot of positive you know, I cycle so I must see the streets over the last twelve months, I was really nervous, you know, oh my god, is it going to become dirty, but no, the streets have been repaved and everything so from that perspective I’m really pleased.  Now that I’m starting to cycle again, you know it’s a fact that there’s more cycling but make sure it’s friendly, make sure it’s easy, make sure that things work, you know, offer people that are creative opportunity to do certain things, I mean, I’m in the development business and I can’t tell you the challenges I am going through but I’m really trying to create some amazing places and I’ve got individual that’s stopping certain things because of the mindset of some of the local… and frankly and I can say categorically, they are wrong, it’s not… because again I don’t do it because oh it’s going to make me millions, I’m doing it because I want to create great buildings in certain locations and all of a sudden there’s a need but that sort of… and that just becomes a… those are the sort of things that there needs to be sort of a panel, you know when the… one of the reasons I decided to do the development over here was because, and again it was really smart, what has happened in the past is many post-Olympic parks almost turn derelict for a long time, they were never a success, now what the government, whoever it was, was it Boris when he was Mayor or whoever, decided we are going to create permanent residential things and every residential block that was being developed had to go to a design review panel so isn’t that just somebody could design something and frankly speaking the neighbourhood which is now called East Village, the buildings look good, yes open spaces, they look a lot better than what house builders do because they were forced, I mean it wasn’t their money because it was the government never paid for it, you know so they opened, they offered green spaces and everything else so I think planning is an issue because I tell you something, if you don’t manage planning, it just becomes, it’s going to become ridiculous, you know, I don’t want to live in a city you know, I mean there’s so many beautiful cities in the world and you know sometimes I wish I would have seen them fifty years ago, you know, and it just over, over, over, over planned, over this, over that, you know, move a 41.32, offer people a way of circulating in a different kind of manner but I think this sort of density, you know where the only good thing about living in a block is that if your neighbour lives in the other block, if you go outside on your terrace, you can actually hand them a glass of milk if they needed it, I mean there’s another way of interacting besides shaking hands on terraces of two different buildings but you know that sort of density, that sort of thing, I just think I know it makes money and I know there’s an argument to say that people, we need to move the redevelopment but unless you think about it, unless you really consider and it’s more than just lip service, it’s really caring because that is what the city is, that is the city that breathes, that is what you see, you know no matter what the relationship, you know you still go out and this is what you see and I think the over population, the density, the this and the lack of care and I’m not saying it happens everywhere at all, you know, but where it does happen, I think it’s a real tragedy and it’s a tragedy not only for London but for many cities because developers simply say well you know you want to do this, this and this and that, give us more density which basically means oh well, I can sell, I can go to the Far East and I can sell another hundred thousand square feet, okay, great. 

Susan Freeman

Well hopefully, coming out of lockdown and Covid has given people an opportunity to rethink you know how they want to live and how, you know, how communities should work and you know, hopefully we’ll be seeing a little more sort of mixed use and the sort of places that people want to live in.  So, have you got anything in mind for your next project that you can tell us about?

Harry Hendelsman

Not yet, I mean, you know, I have a silly little development in the heart of Shoreditch which I am trying to get a reasonable, you know, just planning, it has taken, it’s just insane, you know, and all I simply wanted to do when I decided to get involved in it was, hopefully we are there more or less by now but when I want to get involved, I just want to create a good building.  I thought the area needed, I took a great architect to design something beautiful and frankly the trial, tribulation, the frustration, I mean luckily it was you know a 30/40, it’s not huge but the frustration one has to go through because of lack of logic, just kind of fearful of ones own shadow from planners, it’s just ridiculous but…

Susan Freeman

Harry, do you think it’s got more difficult over the period that you’ve been in this business?  I mean, you started in 1992, you know, 44.12, is it more difficult?

Harry Hendelsman

Anecdote of 1992.  So, when I did my development in Clerkenwell in Summer Street, the borough was Camden and Camden you know has a certain notoriety in terms of what it was so, I remember the conversation with the planners.  I walked in and the planners stood, you know I presented my plans and it was 26 apartments and the first question was, is that all you want to do?  And I said, yes, at the end of the day somebody bought three so it ended up being 23 apartments and 44.48 was in eight weeks.  So when there’s a will, there’s a way and you know understanding that just, they were just pleased to see somebody doing something to a derelict building that otherwise would have just been derelict or whatever, you know and making it happen and I think that’s the sort of mindset that needs to happen and I think it’s important that it’s happened and I think it’s also important that developers just don’t take advantage of it but you know, offers some sort of benefit, you know, it is you know it is the Reichmanns that created Canary Wharf, you know it was their vision and what they do, they brought mature trees, you know, everybody else got… and they opened a lot of public space and that was their doing, you now, Canary Wharf isn’t what has happened yesterday but it maybe now it’s being overbuilt but at the time, it was really, yes it was functionality, yes it had its challenges, yes because of lack of Jubilee Line and everything or you know, unfortunately it went wrong for them and that, you know, but that’s the risk you take in development but there was a vision for it, it wasn’t just you know how much can I cram in and what can I get away with?  It was, in order for me to build a world-class commercial centre in an area that is outside of the norm, ie pretty far from the city etc, etc, I have to offer something great. 

Susan Freeman

I remember those mature trees at Canary Wharf.  I think they were grown in Belgium and the attention to detail was just incredible.  So, having been in the development business for so many years, what’s your advice to, you know, the next generation coming along?  What do you say to them?

Harry Hendelsman

What I would say to them, what you mentioned earlier, make it a labour of love but do keep in mind the bottom line because I think at the end of the day, just love, albeit it you know for me it has been challenging and perhaps I was slightly too adventurous in certain things, luckily they turned out right for me and I think luck is an important factor but I say, do it, how do you benefit, it’s not just how do you fill your pocket but what can happen and how does your tenant, and how does the area and what positive kind of changes can you make because I think the two are not mutually exclusive, I think they are very complementary. 

Susan Freeman

Yes, I think that is, that’s good advice.  Well, Harry, it’s been fantastic having the time to chat with you and thank you very much for sharing your time today. 

Harry Hendelsman

My pleasure.  Thank you very much and lots of love. 

Susan Freeman

A huge thank you to Harry Handelsman for his valuable insights into being a change leader and instrumental in transforming the face of London over the last thirty years.    

So that’s it for now.  I hope you enjoyed today’s conversation.  Please join us for the next PropertyShe podcast interview coming very soon. 

The Propertyshe podcast is brought to you by Mishcon de Reya in association with the London Real Estate Forum and can be found at Mishcon.com/PropertyShe along with all our interviews and programme notes.  The podcasts are also available to subscribe to on your Apple podcast app, and on Spotify and whatever podcast app you use.  Do continue to subscribe and let us have your feedback and comments and most importantly suggestions for future guests and of course you can continue to follow me on Twitter @Propertyshe and on LinkedIn for a very regular commentary on all things real estate, Prop Tech and the built environment.

Manhattan Loft Corporation has spent 27 years conjuring vibrant communities within London's most famous and forgotten postcodes. One great building at a time.

Harry was born in Germany and raised in France and Belgium, before moving to Canada and then to New York. It was in New York and more specifically in the SoHo district: that gave Harry the idea and the impetus to start the Manhattan Loft Corporation. When he moved to the UK in the late 1980's Harry already knew that he wanted to bring to London the loft style living he had experienced in New York. Ironically, it was the decline of the property market in the early 1990's and the subsequent availability of old industrial buildings in unfashionable parts of town that enabled him to pioneer loft living in the UK.

From Summers Street Lofts in Clerkenwell back in 1992 to Manhattan Loft Gardens in Stratford in 2018, taking in Soho, Bankside, West India Quay, Notting Hill, Chelsea, King's Cross, Fitzrovia and Hackney in between, Harry continues to challenge conventions and to identify new opportunities throughout London.

2010 saw the start of a four year re-development of the Grade 2 listed Marylebone Fire Station on Chiltern Street, Wi. After showing his friend US hotelier André Balazs around the site in 2009, the two decided to go in to partnership together to create 'something magical'. Using Harry's knowledge of the London market and expertise in transforming listed buildings, and drawing on André's expertise as a first class hotelier, the Chiltern Firehouse was born. After months of frenzied anticipation, the Chiltern Firehouse opened to unprecedented critical acclaim in February 2014.

Preceding the Firehouse was the restoration of one of Britain's most iconic Grade 1 star Listed buildings, the 1870's gothic revival of St Pancras: a 10 year labour of love for Harry. This incredible building was in such a chronic state of disrepair and when the original partners pulled out, the costs began to spiral out of control: Harry stepped in and set about pulling together a team of experts to restore the incredible building to its former glory. All 67 apartments were sold off plan in 2005 (when King's Cross was still deemed a 'no go zone' by many) for record prices for the area. Manhattan Loft Corporation together with their partner Lord Fink kept the ownership of the 245 room St Pancras Renaissance Hotel and continues to take an active role alongside the hotel management.

Harry is a director at Ealing Film Studios: the oldest continuously working studio facility for film production in the world. The 3.8 acre site includes the original sound stages that were used to make the world famous `Ealing Comedies' in the 1940"s. Since 2010 the interior scenes for the extraordinarily successful TV period drama "Downton Abbey" were shot at Ealing and recent films include the critically acclaimed The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game. Ealing Studios is also home to one of the most technology advanced production companies The lmaginarium, which is Europe's leading "Performance Capture" studio. It has long been Harry's vision to create this West London film-hub where new technologies can work side-by-side traditional techniques by introducing new studio space, production facilities, creative space and offices. He was also behind the 'Hackney Fashion Hub', a major £100 million designer fashion outlet district in Hackney E9 designed by leading architect David Adjaye that launched in spring 2016.

Harry's latest and most ambitious project yet is The Stratford in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, E20. Opening July 2019, it promises to combine world-class architecture, hospitality and art to encourage a new generation of long and short-term guests to make the East End their home. Designed by SOM, the architects behind the world's most iconic skyscrapers, The Stratford is a spectacular, double-cantilevered tower of expansive living spaces, three sky gardens, two restaurants and a design hotel. Occupying the first six floors is a 145-room boutique hotel and world-class restaurant with interiors by Space Copenhagen, the designers behind the legendary NOMA. Guests checking in for weeks, or even years, will head to The Lofts, a collection of 248 single and double-height loft apartments stretching to the 42nd floor. Introducing an experimental new way of hospitality, it  will seamlessly merge short-term stays with long-term hotel living, The Stratford offers everything on its doorstep: innovative architecture and design, world-class food and beverage, sky gardens, high-end concierge services, and a wealth of curated cultural experiences.

Harry's work and passion as a client of architecture was awarded, when in 2012 he received an honorary fellowship by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Harry is also an avid and knowledgeable collector of modern art and sits on the board of charitable trusts such as Artangel and Art in the City. He is a trustee of The South London Gallery and is actively involved in the current renovation campaign at The Hayward Gallery, 'Let the Light In'.

Manhattan Loft Corporation, with Harry Handelsman at the helm, continues to raise the bar of property development throughout the city. With more challenging projects in the pipeline and with Harry diversifying into hotels, retail and design, this is an exciting time for London.

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