KEN LEE reports on how one heavily subsidised private landlord in the town centre is now lobbying for yet more public funding
Half of Croydon’s retail and hospitality businesses won’t survive the coronavirus lockdown, according to Roger Wade, the owner of Boxpark.
Wade was speaking to a trade magazine in the week that Croydon’s Fairfield Halls arts venue, just a short walk from Boozepark, laid off 80 staff and went into “hibernation” until 2021, and the nearby Croydon Park Hotel called in the administrators, making 91 staff redundant.
The loss-making Boxpark is another Croydon Council “investment”. A collection of around two dozen food and drink outlets housed in old shipping containers parked next to East Croydon Station, Boozepark was established in 2016 thanks to a £3million loan from the Labour-run council. The cash-strapped Town Hall has continued to subsidise council leader Tony Newman’s favourite party venue, paying it six-figure grants annually, including another £160,000 in 2019.
As the landlord of the various foodie businesses based in Boozepark, Wade has his finger on the pulse of firms suffering in the covid-19 economy, and they are looking as unwell as a patient in an intensive care ward.
“We’re certainly on course for collision,” property owner Wade said in an interview with Property Week.
The magazine characterised the situation as “Armageddon”. Presumably as in the old Carry On film line: “It’s Armageddon! Armageddon! Ahm a gedding outa here..!”
Wade has Boxpark outlets in Shoreditch and near Wembley Stadium, as well as the loss-making (according to the latest Companies House records) Croydon site.
Wade said, “At the end of June, there’s going to be up to six months outstanding rent and I think you could have up to 50 per cent of retail and hospitality businesses that won’t survive lockdown.”
When Wade agreed to bring his boutique fashion outlet to Croydon (his idea to have a food hall was not shared with the council leadership until the launch event), his loan agreement with the Town Hall was over a five-year term, which should be complete next year. It is understood that Boozepark has made all its repayments on time.
But there is a risk that that might change if, as Wade predicts, half of his tenants are unable to pay their rent.
Wade has called for landlords to compromise with tenants – and, inevitably, he is also looking for another hand-out of public money for his private business.
“We’ve got to realise we’re all in this boat together and unless we all swim together, we will all sink together.
“Everyone has to compromise. If landlords reduced rent by a third, the government gave a third towards a grant and operators were responsible for a third, that might be acceptable. But we’ve got to get to a sensible solution, because if not it will come down like a house of cards.”
Wade is lobbying for social distancing to be relaxed and for pubs and restaurants – and Boozepark – to be allowed to reopen from July 4.
“Our shops, our hotels and our pubs are the heart and soul of our community,” he said.
Many of the businesses operating out of Boozepark have already benefited from generous business rate relief, arranged by Wade’s mates at the council. Now, Wade wants more help.
“If we want to create ghost towns up and down our country, then, you know what, do nothing. We need urgent measures, so initiatives like overhauling business rates and encouraging turnover rents.
“Government didn’t create this problem; landlords didn’t create this problem and operators didn’t create this problem, so we must adopt an attitude of shared pain.”
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