Birmingham's money-spinning office market needs more buildings with the wow! factor if it is to lure large inward investors, argues a leading commercial property agent.
The problem, argues Ian Martin, associate director at Jones Lang LaSalle Birmingham, is that short-sighted developers still view the Second City as a small market and won't take the plunge to build dramatic buildings on a speculative basis.
Projects to watch that may buck the trend and create striking new buildings to match the Selfridges side of the Bullring could be Masshouse, Arena Central and two sites with the potential for redevelopment, the NatWest Tower and Grand Hotel, both in the heart of Birmingham's traditional business district.
Endorsing the government's call for more visually stunning designs from architects and town planners, Mr Martin says: "It is indeed a pity that a city which has transformed itself dramatically over the past ten years is still suffering from a lack of new and exciting office developments.
"The supply of good quality grade A or grade B stock has risen over 2003, but the buildings we class as grade A in the local market are, in many cases, second-hand and refurbished, rather than new and innovative. One of the main reasons for this is that developers are still viewing Birmingham as a small market and consequently not taking the plunge to build dramatic buildings speculatively.
"It would seem that the threat of another scheme starting up at the same time and potentially diluting the chance of letting the building is considered too great.
"This attitude against development is certainly short-sighted."
Mr Martin cites the Bullring as a prime example of a development that has started to push out the boundaries of the city as well as raise the profile of Birmingham itself.
"It has attracted visitors who have never been to the city before and iconography like Selfridges is not only a fantastic draw but it also helps Birmingham to stay in people's minds for the right reasons," he says.
"What the Birmingham office market needs now is more innovative buildings to encourage inward investment.
"Just like it can help to sell a house, innovation is a critical factor in letting or selling office space and many more landlords and developers need to make this connection - particularly in a depressed market which can highlight the lack of flexibility some office space offers.
"The flip side of this argument is that, with few projects likely to come forward in the next few years, space will let well regardless of dramatic design.
"The question should be, how much extra rent will a tenant pay for unique design? Also, if unique design means a more desirable product, then would the space let more quickly, reducing the void period and make a scheme more profitable?
"It is true that as some employees are starting to demand a more stimulating working environment that some design and refurbishment is starting to take place.
"But landlords and developers need to take note that it is may be more cost-effective to be innovative with space in the beginning."
A prime example of existing office space that is being revamped is City Plaza - and here again strong imagery is proving useful in luring footloose occupiers.
Attention centres not on the building itself, although it has got an eye-catching facelift, but on a striking image used in the marketing campaign for the 14,000 sq ft new grade A office floor at this mixed-use development.
An aerial view of part of Birmingham's central core is lifted up in a pair of hands showing where the 14,000 sq ft new grade A office floor sits in the centre of Birmingham's business district.
Created by Birmingham's Switch Design, the hands image shows City Plaza and surrounding buildings as well as St Philips' cathedral and its gardens.
Mr Martin, whose firm is joint letting agent with Lambert Smith Hampton, explains the thinking behind the image.
"The majority of professional firms want to be in the central core, close to the cathedral, and the image seemed to be the best way of demonstrating that to them," says Mr Martin.
Owner CGIS has spent #1.8 million refurbishing City Plaza and creating the extra grade A space to add to the existing 58,000 sq ft of office suites, standing over two floors of specialist fashion and beauty retailers.
According to Philippa Pickavance, regional director of office agency at LSH, the unique single floorplate of 14,000 sq ft is proving attractive to potential tenants.
The reason? For a start, there are not many buildings that can provide this space on one floor, answers Miss Pickavance.
"With a new double-height entrance from Temple Row and atrium with features curved glazing looking out over the city's St Philips cathedral and Colmore Row, City Plaza is undoubtedly one of the best addresses in town, in a building which offers outstanding value," she adds.