In a new blow to art and antiques dealers who are increasingly being priced out of London’s West End, seven of the 22 galleries in Mayfair’s Cork Street have been informed that their leases will not be renewed next year.
The announcement heralds redevelopment plans by a new landlord. The premises at 29-30 Old Burlington Street, which includes a stretch of Cork Street, is being sold by the current landlords, British insurance firm Standard Life Investments, to a partnership consisting of London property developers Native Land, Singapore-based Hotel Properties Limited (HPL) and Malaysian investment firm Amcorp, for a reported £90m.
The sale was announced on the Native Land website on August 1 and will be completed over the next few weeks.
Native Land say they are currently working up plans to replace the existing 83,000 sq ft building with "a luxury apartment block, with art galleries and restaurants" at street level, planned to be completed by 2016.
The Mayfair street has for the past 100 years been internationally renowned for its cluster of commercial art dealers, largely dealing in modern art, and this short stretch is unusual in that its street-level spaces are still almost solely populated by art galleries.
The galleries affected - Mayor Gallery, Alpha Gallery, Adam Gallery, Beaux Arts, Gallery 27, Waterhouse & Dodd and Stoppenbach & Delestre - were told in mid-August that their leases, which all end around June 2013, will not be renewed.
However at the time of writing, galleries had not been served notice but a few longer-term tenants had been given details of compensation packages. No planning application for redevelopment has as yet been submitted to Westminster Council, so some dealers were hopeful there might be space for negotiation to extend the lease.
Many similar disputes, such as that over Burlington Arcade, have involved a listed building, but the Cork Street site is an unattractive late 20th century design which, according to one occupant, is already showing its age, with poor drainage and is prone to flooding.
Chief executive of Native Land, Alasdair Nicholls, cited the building's proximity to "the fine art galleries of Cork Street and bespoke tailoring of Savile Row" in the announcement.
But while there is a promise to include gallery space within the redevelopment, this will not be ready until 2016 if Native Land meet their target completion date.
Native Land told ATG: "The existing building has reached the end of its economic life. We intend that our future proposals will provide a quality of accommodation that respects the location of Cork Street as part of the international art market place."
They added that it was very early days in the project and therefore too early to go into details about what might be in the new development.
But the main concern of the dealers is that they will not be able to compete financially with fashion houses and luxury goods businesses able to pay steeper rents who may in fact take over these new spaces post-development.
While the galleries' futures are not yet set in stone, James Mayor, whose father founded the Mayor Gallery in 1925, seemed resigned to the fact that he would have to move.
"I only heard last week that the lease will not be reissued, so I have not thought yet about what I will do now. But ten months is not a long time to find a new space and lots of other galleries are looking for space in the West End - smaller spaces have been made into larger ones and rents are unmanageable.
"Our current small spaces are ideal for specialist modern galleries, while the big contemporary galleries want more space."
He added: "Why do we need more luxury residential spaces in Mayfair when there are already so many that sit empty? It's pointless; they are all bought by overseas investors and push up the price for office and retail space."
Mayor described such developments as "short-sighted" and Christopher Battiscombe, secretary general of the Society of London Art Dealers, echoed his thoughts.
He said: "These property developers and landlords may make money in the short term by selling for residential redevelopment or renting to fashion houses, but in the long term they are getting rid of the very reason many people come to these areas of London, for the art and antiques.
"It's very sad news. Cork Street is such a centre of the art world and is one of the few remaining streets in the area that is exclusively owned or leased by galleries. It draws people from all over the world."
Mr Battiscombe pointed to the fact that parts of St James's had been made Special Policy Areas by Westminster Council to protect the private clubs and art galleries that are synonymous with the area. SLAD has contacted the council to propose that Cork Street be awarded similar protected status but such a scheme might take a couple of years to implement.