MixInspired Cardiff

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It only takes a walk through the centre of Cardiff to see that this is a city in transition – and the optimism and determination to succeed as both a leisure destination and as a major commercial centre was very much at the heart of our esteemed panel’s musings.

We were delighted to be able to boast an impressive panel of experts in their respective industries – our fab four being Matt Phillips from Knight Frank, Buro Four’s Judith Richards, Ken Poole from the City of Cardiff Council and Park Plaza’s Margaret Waters – who both informed and enlightened our audience of Cardiff and Bristol’s leading architects and designers at the wonderful Story Museum.

“Talent is the key driver. That’s why businesses are investing more in fit-outs. You look at these innovative environments – they are phenomenal. You’re not sure whether you’re in a workspace or a leisure space. Businesses want to create great working environments primarily so that they can attract the best talent”

Matt Phillips got the session underway by offering a fascinating insight into what is happening in the city’s centre, the current trends and what the good people of Cardiff can expect in the near future.

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‘In terms of the office market, we’re looking at just under 11.5 million sq ft,’ Matt informed us. ‘Grade A office product – new offices less than five years old – accounts for 201,000 sq ft, the majority of which is in the city centre, while headline rentals currently stand at £25 per sq ft.

‘Take up in the city averages about half a million sq ft – and last year was a record for us at 620,000 sq ft.’

Matt continued to tell us how both the quality of businesses moving into the city and also the level of fit-out and specification has improved dramatically over the past decade or so. Citing how the client process has changed in the last five years Matt told us now the key decision markers at the start of the process include the HR director and MD, whereas previously it was just the FD.  The point being that whilst budget is still a crucial point, a vital consideration is attracting the right people by offering an amazing place to work.

Judith Richards agreed with Matt’s positivity. ‘I think Cardiff is a really exciting place to work,’ she enthused. ‘I think people’s perceptions of Cardiff have changed a great deal.’

Welsh by birth but with most of her work outside the region, Judith’s view from the ‘outside’ has perhaps greater emphasis.

“Swansea University was quite a unique project – it gave the university an opportunity to do things very differently. That difference can be seen in terms of both the quality and the types of environments delivered – the third spaces and non-traditional teaching spaces, for example.”

Judith and the team at Buro Four recently completed Swansea University’s Bay Campus project (featured in the April issue of Mix) and she made the point that her experience in the world of education shows that there are increasing similarities between education and the workplace. Comments from the audience actually suggested that education was in many ways leading the agile office movement.mix-inspired-cardiff-22mix-inspired-cardiff-24mix-inspired-cardiff-31

Margaret Waters considered. ‘The city now boasts a number of major events that help attract people here. We’ve noticed that people come here and really enjoy it. That, for us, is the pinnacle – and the future.’

Whilst very positive about the city and its future, Margaret was clear that the single biggest impact on business tourism would be a convention centre. Whilst the City boasts some world class conferences and adequate large venues, it is clear that, in order to compete with major European cities it needs a venue to match those expectations.

As head of the Cardiff Hoteliers Association, Margaret is keen to see Cardiff not only as a leisure destination but also one that fully caters for business. The audience agreed that the significant work taking place across the city and the new businesses relocating into the centre will clearly help adjust perceptions in a positive manner.

Few people have a greater understanding of Cardiff and its continued development – both physically and culturally – than Ken Poole. ‘The city has changed enormously,’ he told our audience. ‘Cardiff is really beginning to appear on the radar screen a lot more. Why? The events strategy was the basis of the re-profiling of the city. I think this was a simple and very effective strategy.

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‘We’ve been through a major deindustrialisation period – we’ve lost a lot of manufacturing – but we’ve made our mark by investing in retail, by investing in sports stadia and by chasing major events. We’ve brought a lot of people into the city who’ve never been here before.’

Ken went to say ‘There’s a lot of activity as the city’s profile continues to rise and the investment momentum continues. We’re not just getting enquiries from businesses but also from hotel operators.

‘One of these is a fantastic investment in one of the most iconic buildings probably in the whole of Wales – the old Coal Exchange in Cardiff Bay, which has been in severe decline for 30 years. Now a company from Liverpool has acquired the building and is transforming it into a 200-bed hotel. It’s fantastic that investors are now starting to see the possibilities in this area.’

‘It’s really important for us to be very focused on what our guests want – not just from a bedroom point of view but also from a ground floor point of view,’ Margaret added. ‘People want to have something better than they have at home. The customer expectation and the demands are different today. They’re not in the hotel for as long now – they want a good bed, a good shower, it’s important that it’s quiet – and they want WiFi of course. Because their stay might not be as long and because there is so much choice here in Cardiff, there is less focus on food and beverage than there might have been 15 years ago.

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‘We do need to do more. As Matt pointed out, we need to continue to bring major business investment into the city. We’re starting to get real investment – hard cash on a long-term basis, which we’ve never had before. It really has been a remarkable transformation.’

We finished the session by thanking our sponsors for their support and encouragement; Hansgrohe, Herman Miller and Milliken – and a special note of gratitude to Herman Miller for supplying its brilliant Keyn Chair chairs and to Milliken for supplying the carpet for the event. In unison, these fantastic products helped elevate the already impressive Story Museum space.

At Mix we are – and always have been – big supporters of the ‘regions’ and it is clear, as with our visit to Birmingham last month, that Cardiff has challenges – but with people in senior positions like our good panel there is no doubt the next time we visit we will be even more impressed with this fine city.