View of Cork Street showing the two developments
Building work continues on Cork Street. Around a dozen dealers have left the area since 2012.

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Two major building projects are currently underway on the street in Mayfair but ATG has learned that the rent levels of the new commercial space will likely be set at almost double the level galleries previously paid.

Although the new premises will not open until late 2017, property agents acting for the developers are understood to be pitching the new premises in excess of £100 a square foot – well above the previous level that was closer to £50/£60 a square foot.

Around a dozen dealers have left the area since 2012 and, earlier this month, Alan Cristea Gallery announced it would become the latest departee, moving to Pall Mall once their lease expires on Cork Street where they have been for the last 20 years.

The new developments comprise luxury flats on the upper floors but, due to new planning guidance by Westminster Council, developers are obliged to provide space at street level for galleries. However, the high rents being requested on Cork Street are unlikely to be affordable for many small and medium-sized galleries, the like of which have traded on the street for over a century and given the London thoroughfare its unique character.

High End Targets

Pollen Estate, which now controls the developments on the street, has hired Property Agents KLM and Pilcher Hershman to scour the globe for new gallery owners.

Brochures are being circulated showing what the area will look like once the building work has been completed and adverts will soon be placed in order to lure new names to the area. The marketing approach appears to be aimed at attracting high-end international galleries.

Property agent James Andrews, a partner at KLM, who is advising the Pollen Estate, said: “The Pollen Estate has the ambition to create the world's best dedicated art street. It has funded a massive streetscape investment and improvements. All conspire to relaunch Cork Street as the spiritual home of British modern and contemporary art.”

He said he is about to market space for 10 galleries with large, flexible spaces of up to 15,000 sq ft each.

These new galleries are significantly larger than the previous units on Cork Street and the rents have been set to reflect the higher specification of the build. Rents on Cork Street had been stuck at around £50/£60 a square foot for many years as the threat of redevelopment loomed over the area and had put off tenants from paying any more.

Property expert Keith Wilson from real estate consultancy Wilson McHardy, said: “London is the second largest art market after New York. International galleries want to be in central London and these international players are able to pay £100-£125 a square foot for space.”

Special Policy Area

These latest developments come as Westminster City Council’s long-awaited plan to designate new Special Policy Areas (SPA) for Mayfair is being presented to full council on April 27. The move will ensure Cork Street and Albemarle Street will have protected status for galleries and, if approved, the plan will then go to the Secretary of State for independent examination in May.

Tailoring hubs Savile Row and Jermyn Street were granted the ‘special policy area’ protection five years ago and this has helped ensure their particular tradition remains in these areas.

Christopher Battiscombe, the director general of The Society of London Art Dealers, told ATG: “We’ve had a lot of talks with Westminster Council about Cork Street and Mayfair in general and have made some good progress. Getting developers to accept plans to only let the ground floors art dealers was a pretty significant condition and beyond what could have been permitted.”

Although he acknowledged that the planning conditions did not stipulate what rents would be, he said: “It seems to me that if they are limited to renting to art dealers that has to have some effect on the rents they can ask. Of course we are worried at huge increases in rents and its effect on the trade, but in our meetings with the council and the round tables with the landlords there was willingness on all sides to maintain attractiveness of the area.”

“The point I continue to make is that it’s not just largest and richest dealers but the variety of galleries that lends itself to an area.”