Fourteen years ago the Baltic Triangle was about to be written off as a red light district. Now it’s one of Britain’s hippest destinations and growing day by day.
How did it happen – and how can it survive as the developers move in?
Every Friday night at Cains brewery is like a festival. Crowds spill out from the line-up of bars and pop-ups and from the wildly popular Baltic Market with its eclectic mix of indie food stalls. If you fancy a change of scene, you can wander out of Cains, past the cranes and new apartment blocks being built on Parliament Street. You pass Camp & Furnace – home, as a sign proudly says, of the smash hit Bongo’s Bingo nights. And you pass the stunning red-brick Victorian warehouses that now house a creative academy and dozens of bands and young businesses. You could head into town, perhaps to the Botanical Garden for a gin, or to a microbrewery like Black Lodge, or to have your picture taken by the Liver Bird wings, or to visit 24 Kitchen Street, home to the Sonic Yootha club nights and once home to a Jeremy Corbyn rave. And you’d pass brightly-lit studios where design and video game firms show off their work to passers-by. This the Baltic Triangle.
It’s one of the most buzzing areas in the UK, not just Liverpool, and a widely-praised piece of urban regeneration attracting millions of visitors every year and hosting thousands of jobs. The Rough Guide called it an “uber arty” must-visit and national papers have named it one of the coolest places in Britain. It’s all even more impressive because a decade or more ago the whole area was just a forgotten industrial zone on the edge of the city centre. Many of those industrial firms are still there, out of sight behind the newer arrivals.
Cains is an even more recent success story. Even two years ago the Cains site was largely empty, still waiting for a new purpose after the famous brewery finally closed in 2013. But not all is rosy. The Baltic built its reputation on the back of the creatives who moved in to this low-rent area, and the venues that followed. And, as in other similarly gentrified areas around the world from London to San Francisco, that has attracted developers who want to build homes for those attracted to the nightlife and culture. That means some of those young firms fear they could be pushed out. In July popular venue Constellations announced it was moving out to make way for another apartment development. That sparked outrage from some who feared the Baltic could lose what made it famous – with its “culture for sale” to feed the “development beast”.
Life as a hip hangout is just the latest twist in the Baltic’s long history. The area’s name comes from its Northern European links. Its streets became home to the timber trade, with firms importing wood from Baltic countries including Sweden and Poland. A Scandinavian church was founded in the 1860s and its spiky Baltic-style red-brick building is one of the area’s few surviving historic landmarks. Early 20th century images show an unrecognisable Baltic, packed with warehouses and terracing. Then bombing and post-war clearances started to drain the life out of the area. Even in the 70s and 80s there were shops and pubs on the main arteries, Park Road, and St James Street. But by the 90s the main roads had been largely cleared and the Jamaica Street area was left with old crumbling warehouse and newer “crinkly sheds” for light industry.
Cains brewery and the many small businesses in the area kept going. But it wasn’t an area for outsiders. It’s still dotted with battered signs for an Industry Watch scheme from the Parliament Street Industrialists Association. Richard Clare started work as a chemist, druggist and dry-salter in 1748. In 1770, he moved to Stanhope Street. Almost 250 years later, the chemicals firm he founded is still there, just down the road from buzzing Cains and across the road from more new apartments. David Meadows, head of marketing and customer service at RS Clare, said: “I did work experience here when I was 16, about 19 years ago. And I remember it as a really grimy area. You wouldn’t want to go to the pubs round here very much.” Meanwhile the giant empty brick warehouse in Greenland Street because known as the Buddleia Building, after the shrubs that grew from it.
The area may have looked half-dead, but things were stirring underground, including regular gigs at the New Picket music venue in New Bird Street. In 2006, arts venue the A Foundation opened in a set of warehouses between Greenland Street and Parliament Street. It hosted regular exhibitions, including events linked to the 2006, 2008 and 2010 Biennials. That drew artists and creatives to this underused area. And that gave them ideas. Asked how the Baltic Triangle was revived, community development activist Erika Rushton smiled: “There’s probably five different stories, and they’re all true.”
Jayne Casey, a stalwart of Liverpool’s world-famous Eric’s scene of the 1970s and who later helped Cream grow into a global brand, was among those there at the start. She first came to the area in 2004 as director of the A Foundation, leading its purchase of the Greenland Street base. Jayne had witnessed before the regeneration dilemma – when artists make an area popular, developers move in and the artists are pushed out.
Jayne went on to work for Cream in another half-empty area that went on to become “the Ropewalks”.
One of the area’s finest historic landmarks, the red-brick warehouse in Parliament Street, was about to be brought back to life as Elevator Studios, the first large-scale digital and creative venture in the Baltic. It still hosts dozens of businesses and, along with ground floor bar Baltic Social, remains a lynchpin of the area. Tim and Paul Speed ran a recording studio and creative complex in Dale Street in the city centre. But when that building was sold they had to look elsewhere. From 2007, they turned the Parliament Street site into a warren of offices and rooms. Some tenants from town moved with them but new firms soon joined them. Tim Speed said: “Our idea was to create a biosphere, a one-stop-shop – you could come to Elevator and get everything you wanted. “People collaborate, so some of the web designers will use the photographers or graphic designers in here. Games companies may use some of the musicians in here to make music for the games, and they will meet in the cafe. “When we were thinking about the development of the Baltic Triangle, we wrote a little road map, which was – if Elevator could be knocked over and spread out a bit, that would be a really good blueprint for the rest of the area. There would be a mix of sustainable independents, an eclectic mix of interesting, independent businesses.”
Tim and Paul were also among the founders of Camp & Furnace, which transformed the old A Foundation warehouses into a bar and events space that quickly became the hub of the early Baltic Triangle scene. More recently it became the incubator for one of the coolest and quirkiest club nights in the world, Bongo’s Bingo. Jonny Bongo started his alternative bingo night in Camp & Furnace three years ago. Now he’s held nights in 42 cities around the world and the Liverpool events have grown to include dancers, confetti cannons and pyrotechnics, as well as some bingo. And they’ve involved special guests from B*Witched to So Solid Crew. Among the very first creative firms to move to Elevator was Milky Tea, led by Jonathan Holmes. “We didn’t know where we were coming to,” he smiled, remembering the abortive red light district plans.
But in 2010 the area was a work in progress.
“The pavements along Jamaica Street hadn’t been done yet,” said Clemens. “The building we were in didn’t have a lift yet, so we climbed 6 flights of stairs every morning to get to our desks for about a year. But there already was a fair amount of businesses activity in the area and it continued building momentum.”
Meanwhile the vision of Jayne Casey and Erika Rushton was taking shape in the form of Baltic Creative. From 2009 onwards the organisation, chaired by Erika, started converting some of those old tin sheds into offices and spaces for creative firms. It secured European funding and cash from the European Regional Development Fund and its work was backed by Liverpool Vision, particularly by its creative sector lead Kevin McManus, and the city council. But its work really burst into public view in late 2012 when its main campus was opened to the public. What was a blank warehouse front facing Jamaica Street was opened up, with a coffee shop at the front, steps leading onto the street and the words Baltic Creative above. Inside was one of the quirkiest office spaces anywhere. Instead of partitions and suspended ceilings, lots of individual plywood “sheds” were put in to house creative firms.
On opening night, with light spilling from the once-dark units onto once-empty Jamaica Street, it was clear the area had changed physically. And behind the scenes it was changing economically too as Baltic Creative’s units have filled. Managing director Mark Lawler said: “By September 2013 we probably had about 40 or 50 companies wanting to move in. We thought we were onto something then.” Putting digital firms in “shopfronts,” with glass walls facing the street, was an unusual move, But Erika and Mark said it was all part of a wider plan to make the area more welcoming.
For its first few years, the Baltic Triangle stopped at Parliament Street. But as sites ran out, developers and entrepreneurs looked to the similar industrial area across the road. The biggest single development is the X1 The Quarter scheme, with hundreds of apartments in five blocks. The tallest tower, on the corner of the Dock Road, could yet be the first of a new southern cluster of tall towers at the southern end of the city centre. More blocks are being built on Parliament Street and there are plans for more behind. But at the heart of the extended Baltic Triangle is the landmark Cains brewery complex. Cains, first founded in 1858, has had a turbulent history of its own, with the landmark brewery eventually getting bought by Higsons and passing through various hands before the Dusanj brothers bought it in 2002. It brewed its last pints in 2013. But its owners that year unveiled a new vision for the site, winning permission for the £150m Brewery Village development. That would have seen the historic red-brick brewery building turned into a hotel with sky bar, with apartment blocks and even a supermarket built on the rest of the site. Those plans went cold as the brothers sought investment. But then, as the Baltic expanded, something happened to Cains – independent firms started moving in. First Ryde coffee shop and Red Brick Vintage opened in part of the red-brick building, while Baltic Creative decided to turn one of the dull Cains sheds into the Northern Lights complex for artists and creatives. In 2016 the extraordinary Ghetto Golf, and urban graffiti-covered crazy golf complex, opened in one of the Cains sheds. Its developers have opened a string of other popular venues at Cains, from a Home Alone Christmas bar to Birdies bar and BBQ and movie-inspired bar On Air. A Peaky Blinders bar has also been a big hit, while other venues are dotted around Cains’ car parks and buildings. The Cains site will soon welcome even more venues – and the return of the Cains brand itself. Andrew Mikhail is opening a series of venues inside the historic main brewery building, facing Grafton Street. They will include a new microbrewery under the Cains brand, making ales including its famous Raisin Beer. Now he and the other Cains tenants want improvements to the junction of Grafton and Parliament Streets, which is increasingly busy but has no pedestrian crossing. That’s now being examined by Liverpool council.
If any one venture put Cains on the tourist map, it was the Baltic Market. Its giant hall, filled with independent food traders, is at the heart of the Cains scene, with visitors pouring between it and the other bars on the site. The market was created by Oliver Press and David Williams, founders of the Independent Liverpool card, alongside street food entrepreneur Tim Haggis.
David said: “We thought ‘why wouldn’t people want to go to a festival every single weekend? And they do.“We’ve had hundreds of thousands people here in the first year.“We’ve had people from South Korean television channel fly over to the Baltic for a film about Liverpool. We get people from Belfast, and Newcastle, but we also get people from around the corner. It’s been amazing.“We never anticipated this would be as popular as it is.”David and Oliver were inspired to start the market by their work with local indie businesses through their discount card. They knew they wanted to be based in the Baltic, where they held their first street food event in Constellations four years ago.And David was particularly pleased to play a part in bringing Cains back to life.He said: “Cains’ growth has extended the Baltic even further. It’s made town feel closer and the Baltic feel bigger.”
Plans for a new creative hub in Liverpool’s northern docklands will not harm the Baltic Triangle district, according to the city’s mayor.
Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson has offered assurances that the ‘Ten Streets’ project will “complement” other regeneration zones and may even free up space in the city centre.
He says: “I want to make the point that ‘Ten Streets’ will not replace the Baltic Triangle. It may even benefit that part of the city centre by creating more space there as some of the businesses may wish to relocate to the northern docklands.
“We are still committed to working with the businesses based in the Baltic Triangle because it is a creative jewel in Liverpool’s crown and we want ‘Ten Streets’ to be the same. It’s not going to replace the Baltic Triangle, it will complement it.”
‘Ten Streets’ is a regeneration initiative which aims to transform a rundown area of the docks into a district where digital businesses and creative enterprises can thrive alongside art organisations.
The initiative, which aims to create an estimated 2,500 new jobs over the next decade, could include the development of new squares and public spaces as well as new retail, culture and leisure outlets to increase footfall in the area.
The UK’s first theatre with a revolving auditorium is also being lined up for the creative district.
Infrastructure improvements in the area, including road upgrades and a new train station, are expected to complement ‘Ten Streets’ which will be delivered by Harcourt Developments, the company behind Liverpool’s Titanic Hotel.
Liverpool City Council and Harcourt’s vision for ‘Ten Streets’ is on public display between now and 10 February after being launched yesterday (2 February), and the feedback gathered will help shape a formal masterplan for the project.
Plans to convert a kitchen showroom into a new hotel in Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle are expected to be approved.
Living Brick’s proposals for ‘Baltic Hotel’ include a café/restaurant, bar and a three-storey roof extension.
A report to Liverpool City Council’s planning committee recommending the 36-bedroom hotel for approval says the scheme will contribute towards a “sustainable mix of uses in an accessible location, benefiting the local economy and providing enhanced employment prospects and will assist in increasing activity in the area”.
The application site on Jamaica Street is designated within the UDP (Unitary Development Plan) for industrial uses, however the report notes that a “strict adherence to [this] policy” has so far failed to attract any new interest.
If plans are approved, the building’s current occupier Baltic Kitchens & Bedrooms would relocate to more modern premises.
A total of 36 bedrooms are proposed for the hotel – 18 within the existing mid to late 19th Century building and 18 located within the new rooftop extension.
Developer Living Brick recently submitted plans for another hotel on Liverpool’s Duke Street.
It’s envisaged that the 30-room ‘Duke Street Boutique’, earmarked for a vacant plot between a nursery and French style café bar Petit Café Du Coin, will feature a spacious lobby and seating area backdropped by an “impressive curving staircase”.
The council’s planning committee will convene next Tuesday (11 December) to rule on the Baltic Triangle proposals.
Christie & Co, a specialist business property adviser, have released their latest review of the UK hotel market which suggests that, despite uncertainty (especially Brexit) the sector remains buoyant. Highlights include:
Using indicators such as occupancy and revenue-per-room the Colliers’ UK Hotel Market Index ranked Liverpool third out of 34 cities behind only Edinburgh and Belfast.
Liverpool is now a UK hotspot for hotel investment with a new index putting it in the top three UK cities thanks to rising room occupancy and revenue-per-room (RevPar).
On Monday, property experts Colliers International published the Colliers’ UK Hotel Market Index which looks at nine key performance indicators in 34 cities in the UK and consolidates them into a single ranking.
Liverpool came third in the index behind only Edinburgh and Belfast and rising from eighth in 2017. The city was ranked fourth for occupancy, behind only London, Edinburgh and Oxford, with a rate of 81.8% in 2018, up from 78.7% in 2017.
It ranked number one for RevPar with average annual growth of 7.3 per cent in revenue per available room over the past four years, higher than Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Plymouth. And in terms of costs of development Liverpool was third, coming behind Edinburgh and Glasgow.
In 2008, the year when Liverpool was European Capital of Culture, the city was home to 37 hotels, providing 3,726 rooms. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been invested into the sector since then and the city now boasts almost 70 city centre hotels/apart hotels and guest houses offering 8,731 rooms with another 878 in the pipeline.
Manchester also performs well, with the city having a strong pipeline of hotel rooms becoming available over the next two years. It has a current supply of 18,754 rooms and an active pipeline of another 2,210 rooms.
Chester emerges as the most improved hotel market, being ranked number one in the category of rising stars, ahead of Gloucester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Brighton, representing a marked rise for the historic centre from 11th position in the 2017 Index.
Rising from 11th to fourth in the overall index, key factors behind Chester’s success in both tables include growth in occupancy levels at its hotels and lower build costs when compared to other locations.
Marc Finney, head of hotels and resorts consulting at Colliers International, said: “This year’s Index shows a strong performance for the North West of England, with Liverpool’s active pipeline ranking improving by eight spots bringing it into third place.
“This is mainly due to strong growth in both occupancy and average daily room rate, resulting in the highest four-year RevPAR trend, combined with improved market appetite and relatively low land site prices.”