COVER

A MONUMENT ‘HERE TO STAY’

CANARY WHARF TRANSFORMS LONDON

ANDREW PHILLIPS May 25 1992
COVER

A MONUMENT ‘HERE TO STAY’

CANARY WHARF TRANSFORMS LONDON

ANDREW PHILLIPS May 25 1992

A MONUMENT ‘HERE TO STAY’

CANARY WHARF TRANSFORMS LONDON

COVER

In the Henry Addington Pub, a couple of hundred yards away from Canary Wharf, business boomed last week as the afternoon crowd poured in from the surrounding office towers. Despite reports of another financial crisis buffeting Canary Wharf's developers, Olympia & York Developments Ltd. (o&Y), the beer flowed across what the pub’s owners claim is the longest bar in Britain (97 feet). Drinkers spilled out onto the pub’s terrace overlooking the murky brown waters of the Thames, a river that once welcomed ships bringing bananas from the Canary Islands and other goods from around the world into London’s old port. “At lunchtime, you can’t move in here,” said Kym Baker, the Henry Addington’s 35-year-old manager. “We’re here to stay—whatever happens to Olympia & York.” While O&Y fights off bankruptcy, the $7billion project that is most responsible for pushing it to the edge is already a fast-growing fact of life. On workdays, 3,500 people go to work at Canary Wharf, and thousands more pass through on business or simply to stare at the gleaming towers. By the end of the year, the total is scheduled to rise to 10,000, as new

tenants like Texaco Inc., Morgan Stanley International and Crédit Suisse First Boston bank move in. Already, the first of three planned phases is 60 per cent rented—although many of the tenants will be paying little or no rent for several years as part of the deals by which o&Y lured them to the once desolate docklands area. The British government is also considering moving 2,000 civil servants there from its environment department.

Marvel: What new tenants will find when they finally arrive is a bizarre combination of meticulous workmanship and eerie emptiness. O&Y spared no expense in building Canary Wharf— and it shows. An estimated 1,000 tourists a day come to marvel at the soaring 800-foot steelclad central tower, nicknamed One Canada Square; at the luxurious green, pink and grey marble in the floors and walls; at the computercontrolled water fountain in Cabot Square with its internal wind sensors that lower the water jets when the wind strengthens to make sure bystanders do not get wet; and even at the sculptured steel-and-bronze railings commissioned from leading British craftsmen.

The effect, depending on taste, can be over-

whelming—or distinctly disconcerting. Even though the Henry Addington is routinely crowded, there are still far too few tenants to give the project the bustling feel of a normal neighborhood. Even in mid-afternoon, it can seem more like an almost deserted set for some futuristic movie. And many Londoners, accustomed to the low scale and gritty quality of their city, say that they do not like Canary Wharf’s grandiose size and antiseptic quality. “They can say they’ve planted 500 or 600 trees, but it’s still a very clinical place,” said Richard Hopkins, the manager of a month-old branch of Rymans, Britain’s leading stationery company.

Takings: Most of those who work at Canary Wharf, however, say that they like the site, despite the controversy surrounding the project. Pub manager Baker says that the Henry Addington is taking in three times more money g than his company expected when it opened last September. “It’s nothing for the stockbrokers from upstairs to drop 300 or 400 pounds for a group of eight over lunch,” he said. “There’s no recession down here.” Business is also good for Peter Wagg, owner of the News on the Wharf, the project’s only newspaper-and-tobacco store. Wagg expected to lose money for the first two years after he opened in October, but instead he says that he began to make money in two weeks. Like other office workers and store owners, Wagg said that his only worry is that O&Y’s crisis might result in Canary Wharf being passed to new managers. Unlike other landlords, added Wagg, the Reichmann brothers treat smallbusinessmen with respect. Equally supportive was Stephen Yeats, owner of an old River Thames coal barge that was converted into a floating restaurant on the site. Said Yeats: “I’ve never dealt with a more honorable group. They have been totally honest with us.” Canary Wharfs main weakness has always been its location—four kilometres of construction sites and run-down housing east of the City, London’s financial district. Even strong supporters of the project complain about the poor access to Canary Wharf from the rest of London. The red, white and blue trains of the Docklands Light Railway connect the project with the City, but the DLR has been plagued by frequent breakdowns and delays. Before its financial crunch, O&Y spent tens of millions of dollars upgrading the line and agreed to pay almost half the $ 1.8-billion cost of extending London’s subway system to Canary Wharf. But O&Y’s crisis has raised doubts that the extension will be completed by 1996, as planned. For those who have already set up shop on London’s new business frontier, there are few doubts that Canary Wharf will fly—eventually. “Canary Wharf is here to stay,” said restaurant owner Yeats. “Who knows who may own it. But the place will survive.”

ANDREW PHILLIPS in London