Birmingham Chamber of Commerce’s home of 50 years could be knocked down in a major property deal to help wipe out a £3-4 million pensions deficit.
Executives at the business organisation are hopeful of resurrecting a ten-year old project to demolish Chamber of Commerce House and build a new headquarters.
Bosses say the Edgbaston building is the business group’s single most valuable asset in the fight to reduce the chamber pensions shortfall, which has grown to between £3 million and £4 million.
The chamber has seen its workforce more than halved since 2007, due to the loss of Business Link, substantially hitting its revenue streams.
Chamber chief executive Jerry Blackett said: “We have a choice – we can stay in the new building or we can move elsewhere. We now employ around 70 people, it is far too big for what we need.
“The best way to maximise the value of the land is to start again. The business case to refurbish is not as strong as knocking it down and starting again. Our landlords, Calthorpe Estates, see the site as central to their vision for Edgbaston. At some point we would hope to realise the value of the asset.
“We are meeting some potential buyers who are coming in and they are interested. We have met more in the last six months.”
Mr Blackett said the chamber had a workforce of 200 when it housed Business Link but its loss had severely reduced revenues.
He said: “It is a combination of keeping costs in the right place and also increasing revenue around membership. We have got costs down and income up.
“It has been a long haul. We were a £36 million revenue business when we had Business Link seven or eight years ago and we are now £6.5 million. We had to cope with that.
“We had 200 people, now we are down to 70-72. We have lost out because of the Business Link revenue streams. There have been tough times and we had to hold our nerve. It was a question of getting costs down.
“We have had a pension fund deficit of £3-£4 million. To give the trustees confidence that the deficit was going to be repaid, the single most valuable asset is Chamber of Commerce House.
“We had to give a mortgage to the pension fund as security for the money we owe them. We still have that asset and we can start to feel that the property market is improving.
“We will be able to pay off the pension fund deficit.”
In March 2004 the chamber unveiled plans to demolish the building and construct a new £90 million headquarters. But the scheme, to provide three new main buildings on the corner of Harborne Road and Highfield Road, was mothballed as the economic downturn hit.
“A knock-down and rebuild is still possible – we still have the planning permission to do that,” added Mr Blackett. Chamber of Commerce House was valued at £2.93 million on a vacant possession basis at March 2012.
The Chamber of Commerce base was designed by renowned city architect John Madin and completed in 1960.