Boxpark boss wants to take on Whitgift Centre redevelopment

Our retailing correspondent, MT WALLETTE, on the latest opportunistic comments from a business owner who claims a ‘track record’ of handling the local council

The entrepreneur behind Boxpark claims that he is ready to step in and take over the redevelopment of the town centre after the collapse of the decade-old scheme for the Whitgift Centre that had been proposed by Westfield and Hammerson.

Roger Wade: five years after opening Boxpark with a £3m council loan, the businessman wants to move in on the £1.4bn town centre scheme

The planning permission granted to what was known, unironically, as the Croydon Partnership, expired last month, leaving the 1960s-built Whitgift Centre a shabby shadow of its former self, dozens of retail units empty and the offices above mostly vacant after 10 years of development blight and 18 months of covid lockdowns.

For the Whitgift’s tenants in the hospitality sector – bars and cafés – the arrival up the road of council-subsidised competition from Boozepark has sometimes been the final nail in their business’s coffin.

There have also been reports in the trade press that Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, the French-based group that took over Westfield, is looking at the possibility of buying out Hammerson, the owners of the Centrale mall, and taking sole charge of the £1.4billion Croydon scheme that stalled long before any of the corporate suits started admitting that their retail dreams had become a south London nightmare.

Indeed, Hammerson has been so badly hit by the downturn in the retail sector and the impact of the pandemic that URW has the economic clout could buy them out altogether – though they probably wouldn’t want the complications of disposing of many of Hammerson’s smaller, less viable regional shopping centres.

Emptying: the council is empty of ideas of how to revive the tired and ailing shopping centre

The local authority, meanwhile, is sitting on an expensively assembled Compulsory Purchase Order for large sections of the town centre, with no idea of how to make use of the properties.

Given the scale of the development, measured in billions of pounds, it makes the recent intervention of Roger Wade, the owner of Boozepark, appear beyond ambitious: it was only five years ago that former rag trade businessman Wade needed a £3million loan from Croydon Council to get his second Boxpark outlet underway.

Wade’scompany recently announced funding from a private equity firm to help with an expansion plan with 10 new sites around the country. But a multi-billion-pound redevelopment scheme, such as Croydon’s, would be a significant step up for a business which is expected to generate revenues of around £18million in the current financial year.

In an interview with Retail Week, Wade called the end of plans to redevelop the Whitgift Centre “a crying shame” – Boozepark was originally seen as a stop-gap, “meanwhile” scheme to plug the gap while Croydon waited for Westfield – and said he was in discussions with property funds and other stakeholders about the possibility of forming a consortium to take over the redevelopment.

“If people don’t step up, we will be looking to step up and put a consortium together to redevelop the scheme,” Wade said.

“We’re involved with major property funds throughout the UK who have expressed an interest in working with us in Croydon.

“I see no reason why we couldn’t look at redeveloping the scheme. So we’re throwing our hat into the arena. We’ve got a proven track record of dealing with Croydon. We believe in Croydon and if other people don’t believe in Croydon then we’re willing to step up.”

Ding Dingwall: Boxpark Croydon is Wade’s most successful outlet

Wade told the trade magazine that putting a consortium together “wouldn’t be too difficult”.

There was a hint at the divisions that have long existed in the Croydon Partnership, as Wade said that he was interested in working with “Hammerson, in particular”.

In his interview, Wade described Croydon as the best performing Boxpark site. “We’ve had a fantastic five years in Croydon. We believe in Croydon and I think we understand retail, we understand leisure and we understand hospitality.”

Later versions of the schemes for Croydon put forward by Westfield and Hammerson reduced the retail space to be developed and doubled the number of residential units to be built, to nearly 1,000 across five tower blocks along Wellesley Road.

Wade appears to be thinking along similar lines.

‘A proven track record of dealing with Croydon’: Wade with Boozepark fan Tony Newman, the discredited former council leader

Any Croydon town centre redevelopment would “have to be a mixed-use development”, he said, “it cannot stack up purely on retailers, so there’s going to have to be a higher proportion of residential and commercial offices within the scheme”.

Given a prime “gateway” location next to East Croydon Station, Wade’s Croydon enterprise was the second Boxpark collection of old shipping containers converted for retail, after a boutique fashion outlet in Shoreditch opened in 2010. Since then, Wade has opened Boxpark Wembley.

Wade is now looking to expand nationally and recently secured investment from private equity firm LDC to help roll-out 10 new sites by 2024, including “Boxhall”, an indoor version set to open in the Bristol docks next year. The company has also announced a “Boxoffice” concept, which would see co-working spaces incorporated into Boxparks as an alternative to home working.

Read more: Council concedes the end of its retail dream for town centre
Read more: Crisis for Croydon as Westfield ‘reviews’ its £1.4bn scheme
Read more: Westfield scale down plans, leaving Croydon a ‘dead duckling’
Read more: Mary Portas, Westfield, Bradford and a £1bn hole in the ground

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17 Responses to Boxpark boss wants to take on Whitgift Centre redevelopment

  1. Mr Wade would seem perfect for this. Accumulated loss at Croydon Boxpark was £393K to April 2020 and this included a loss of £85K for the most recent year. He obviously thinks that losing money makes him ideal for Croydon.

    • Dan Smith says:

      It’s almost like you’ve never seen a set of company accounts before. Happy to be proven wrong DW however the amounts set out in your justification are simply measures to reduce tax liabilities. I’m sure you know this.

      Head to Boxpark of an evening (notably the weekend or for big events such as football/music etc) and it is hard not to see it as a resounding success.

      • Am sure David will reply on his own behalf, but you appear to overlook the vast difference in the financial scale of the two operations.

        Boxpark is little more than a start-up that five years ago needed a £3m loan from the council to get started in Croydon.

        The redevelopment of the Whitgift and rest of the town centre is a £1.4billion project, at least.

        Boxpark has no record of raising nor managing that kind of finance.

  2. Hazel swain says:

    at least he delivered ,, anyone with half a brain could see from the outset that all Westfield would do is cost the local people loads of money ..

    • You could see that, Hazel? You should have spoken up sooner.

      Actually Westfield, as a private development, has “cost the local people” relatively little in the overall scheme of things, beyond the cost of administering the various planning applications, and where businesses, affected by the planning blight caused by waiting for Hammersfield, have not survived.

    • Ian Marvin says:

      See the above comment, and if Croydon is the most successful Boxpark what does that mean for the others?

  3. Senoj says:

    Lord help us.
    What he does, the way he conducts himself and the contempt with which he views existing local communities is the antithesis of what we need.

  4. Lewis White says:

    Boxpark is one of the few places in Croydon with a buzz and bustle, as far as I can make out, where people can socialise without being in a pub or club.

    In the social wasteland of modern Croydon, almost bereft of these very same pubs and clubs of days of yore, once so numerous, it is a place to meet and eat.

    Boxpark was never going to do anything to revitalise the dormant heart of Croydon (on life support, with a slight pulse, if not quite dead), which I hate to say, currently extends along the whole of “The High Street” from the flyover to West Croydon, and includes the Whitgift Centre and Surrey Street.

    Boxpark’s concept of using containers was not actually very innovative, having been done before over several decades, and in reality, were the units actually recycled shipping containers, or were they brand new?

    The concept of having eaterie units around a central space was rather simple, and compares very little with the complexity of the redevelopment challenge of Whitgift, nor on the task of injecting new life into the High Street nor Surrey Street.

    Boxpark is an imposed form of development, not one that grows from the past life and architecture of Croydon.

    My hope for Croydon is that it benefits from having thousands of new residents living in the new and converted tower blocks, but my real fear is that if the council and developers fail to make central Croydon much greener and more “liveable”, all that will happen is that we will end up dark streets overshadowed by even more very tall blocks, and no parks and trees, with flats that become slums in the sky.

    Not my words, but those of numerous environmental and design commentators since people realised in the 1950s that the new tower blocks replacing the Glasgow tenements were soul-destroying places that were already proving to be socially problematical, and far from being the great places they were meant to be.

    Croydon needs to be reinvented as the greenest high rise town centre. Sadly, the lure of the money to be gained by cramming too much development on to sites definitely talks– we then end up with tall blocks blotting out the lighty from the streets and open spaces, and with big blocks built right next to the noise and pollution of the flyover. Not quite the sweaty, poor and airless urban barrios of some Spanish and Italian towns, nor of South America, but getting there.

    Rather unwise to place the future of Whitgift into the hands of anyone other than the best urban designers, architects and landscape designers. I do hope that it ends up a lot greener than Boxpark.

    • “Rather unwise to place the future of Whitgift into the hands of anyone other than the best urban designers, architects and landscape designers.”

      But Lewis, the Whitgift Foundation and Gavin Barwell impose Westfield on Croydon town centre, its businesses and people.

      • Lewis White says:

        One hopes that the Foundation, advised by Lord B will work out that it is worth employing the best business and design brains to come up with a golden egg of a mixed development, that will fund their future prosperity. Surely they can’t be getting much return from a half empty precinct, and still having to pay out each month for the security, business rates, mending the roof, loo cleaning etc etc??

    • Eve Tullett says:

      Unfortunately that council isn’t interested in any green space other than to sell it off and concrete over it. There’s absolutely no chance of any green developments sadly. Croydon is just a concrete jungle, a very depressing place these days.

  5. Roger Wade, purveyor of noodles in foil cartons and flat beer is the answer to the city centre’s retail dilemma? Give us a break.

    • miapawz says:

      I think we need someone better at towns than him in charge of rejuvinating Croydon’s centre. Who that is I don’t know. But please, not Roger of the poor toilets.

  6. Peter Scott says:

    Simple question. Has Boxpark repaid any of the loan initially provided byCroydon Council?

  7. Dan Smith says:

    The main tag line for the owner of Boxpark is that the town centre redevelopment is a large step up.

    Based on the success of Boxpark however I think the LA would be foolish not to involve the man in some way shape or form as retail as we know is due a seismic shift and he is very much on the forefront of understanding what that shift needs to be.

    I’d also much rather him than a US private equity fund or a European corporate who only have a 5 year plan to seek a juicy return to their shareholders/investors.

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