A Chinese consortium has bought a historic listed building opposite Birmingham’s council house in a groundbreaking move thought to be the first of its kind outside London.
The Chinese flag will fly over the Grade II-listed 130 Colmore Row after a group of factory owners from Hangzhou bought the building from Birmingham City Council.
The consortium, working alongside former Wragge & Co lawyers James Ng and Anthony McCourt, is drawing up plans to develop the building into a Chinese-focused business centre and a bar or restaurant.
The multi-million pound deal follows the first ever Chinese commercial property investment in the city, at Quayside Tower on Broad Street, in November.
However it is thought to be the first time businesses from the Far East are actually redeveloping a city property outside London. Mr Ng said more funding was in place and the group was already looking at more city properties.
He said: “All this represents a step forward for the growth of the city, and now for us we want to get more.
“And it sends a good message – that in this city there is a level playing field for foreign investors.”
The deal was secured less than a fortnight ago, so plans are still being worked up and the group has set a June deadline to formalise plans, but Mr Ng said one of his dreams was to have a Chinese consulate in the city.
The deal for the Edwardian property, which measures 5,500 sq ft over three floors, was undisclosed, but it is understood several million pounds will be invested in total.
“I have felt for a long time that one of the unique selling points is to have a Grade A office location for mainland Chinese people to do work in Birmingham,” Mr Ng added.
“I am a strong advocate of 21st century China. There is a difference between China today and the China from when Chinatown was founded.
“One of my main desires is to see whether Birmingham could have a Chinese consulate.
“Manchester has one, I don’t see why we shouldn’t have one. This building would be ideal for that.”
The Colmore Row building was once the office of Alliance Assurance and was built in 1903.
The Edwardian Baroque building, was more recently used as a carers’ centre.The deal comes just months after Chinese investor Peng Global Holdings bought the leasehold of the 133,000 sq ft Quayside Tower in Broad Street in a £7 million deal.
Mr McCourt, who is also involved in the redevelopment of the Beneficial Building, where Snobs nightclub is currently based, said many commentators believe there is a growing opportunity to increase Chinese investment in the city, with the London market over-heating.
“I have not found another example from any other core cities where they have been able to do this,” he said.
“James has put a huge amount of time into putting it together.”
He added: “We have already had one commercial offer for half of the building.
“We aren’t going to rush into anything but we are looking from office to leisure to governmental.
“The fact we had an offer for half the building before we bought it shows it is a popular asset.”
Mr Ng, who headed up Wragge & Co’s offices in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, said high-speed rail has made people in the Far East sit up and notice Birmingham.
The city has put a greater focus on China on the back of Jaguar Land Rover and HS2 – which itself is expected to be funded by Far Eastern investors.
The West Midlands counts China as its number one export partner, and is the only UK region with an export surplus with the emerging superpower.
Mr McCourt said it had been a major step forward. He said: “In the last four or five months we have overcome the issue of convincing Chinese high net-worth individuals to invest in the city.
“There is lots of competition for this from Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leeds.
“What I really like about the Chinese group we are working with is they are in it for the long-term.
“This is a 150-year investment, because that is how long the lease is.”
He added: “There is more money there and we are looking at other opportunities like this.
“I think the key thing is we have come through a six-month conversation about the fact that we are buying something that could make money or could lose money.
“They are now a stakeholder in this city. They have a listed asset in the civic part of the city and now their focus is on creating jobs.”