What do The Old Biscuit Mill, Indigo Properties, the Daddy Long Legs chain of off-beat accommodation and The Woodstock Exchange have in common? They’re all owned by the same three people. Nick Ferguson, Barry Harlen and Jody Aufrichtig know a thing or two about urban development, and about creating vibrant mixed-use spaces in unlikely areas. For our Self-Starters series, we chatted to Nick to find out more about the newest development in their portfolio, The Woodstock Exchange.
Let’s start at the beginning: Why Woodstock?
Woodstock almost found us and it was not the case of us necessarily looking in Woodstock. We had been focusing on holdings on property in Long Street for a number of years and at some stage the market became saturated and there was no value, or very little people selling in the area, so we decided to look elsewhere. We were introduced to the old biscuit mill almost by default and this started our relationship with Woodstock.
The name ‘The Woodstock Exchange’ implies interaction and the swopping of “energies and ideas from like minded creative and businesses”. Please tell us more about the philosophy that underpins the development…
The name Woodstock Exchange was created through a collaboration and joining of minds of the creative tenants at The Woodstock Exchange. We called for submissions from a group of designers and received approximately 20 names which we shortlisted to 3, and then by a process of elimination we ended up with The Woodstock Exchange. You are right, the emphasis of the name is on people exchanging ideas and working together.
Jody describes the space as a “multi use creative business community”. Please tell us more about the shift to bring ‘work and play’ closer together, and in this case one might say, under the same roof…
All of our projects have a fun element to them. Working in a creative design orientated building need not necessarily be confined to the big corporates like Google. We wanted to create an affordable office and retail environment for fledgling creative and design businesses to house their businesses.
What would you say are some of the factors behind the trend of inner city/urban regeneration projects, both locally and internationally?
Price of buildings, lack of space, transport issues.
Urban ‘regeneration’ projects have been criticised for not being inclusive of all the communities they affect. As property developers, what are your thoughts on this somewhat contested idea?
Definition of gentrification is the restoration of run-down urban areas by the middle class (resulting in the displacement of low-income residents). The key factor in determining gentrification is that the area has become rundown through lack of money and interest by owners. This results in the cycle where the values of buildings drop because they are no longer looked after properly and are in a poor state of repair and are generally in unsafe and unsavoury environments. Property developers see value in the bricks and mortar, and redevelop to improve areas and the buildings within them, and in my mind this is a positive thing, and emphasis mustn’t be placed on the people who’ve done nothing with their buildings in the first place. Either you are a person who tries to improve things, or you are the person who is content to leave things as they are. We try to be inclusive in our developments but do not pander to the views of the minority of people.
Some people might only dream of becoming a property developer; how did you get/make your lucky break?
Again this almost happened by default. We saw some value in buildings in Long Street and decided to focus on that area. We bought the right time, and the right buildings, and put energy into improving the buildings and tenants which over time created a snowball effect of value allowing us to buy more buildings.
What have been some of the challenges that you’ve faced getting The Woodstock Exchange going?
During the development in an existing dilapidated building is like peeling an onion. It is the product of many layers and you only get to see the next layer once you open the first. It was like this for us and the extent of the job changed daily. Some of the challenges that we incurred were trying to accommodate existing tenants that we saw value in whilst we were building, and the few tenants that were on existing leases that did not fit our profile of tenant going forward.
What have been some of the highlights along the way so far?
Highlights are the same as doing a minor renovation at home where you paint a wall and you see the positive effect of the change. Other highlights are where a community is created and you have had a hand in the meeting of new friends and business associates.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs wanting to make a go of it on their own?
Don’t get bogged down in business plans, roll your sleeves up and get involved. Jump every hurdle as you get it, rather than trying to plan the set of 10 hurdles that you might have to jump over in the race.
Watch cash flow. Prioritise marketing.
What’s next in The Woodstock Exchange plan?
We are developing approximately 2000 m² of new space of which 1000 square metres has been leased by the school of audio engineering (SAE). It is a new modern structure on top of the old building.
Jump forward ten years: what does Woodstock look and feel like?
Change is slow, we bought the The Old Biscuit Mill in 2005 and the change going forward will be pretty much the same level as the change historically. Things are not radically going to change overnight.
Here’s a list of the tenants you’ll find at the Woodstock Exchange.