An article about Momentum’s successful £10m Gravity entertainment offering at Grosvenor’s Liverpool ONE was published in Estates Gazette on 17/08/23 – read it here.

Momentum builds as leisure and retail repurposing grows

A glimpse into the construction site that is now the £10m Gravity entertainment offering at Grosvenor’s Liverpool ONE six months before its recent launch would have revealed a bizarre scene.

A lone figure dressed in the full personal protective equipment required on a construction site could be seen whizzing around a newly installed racing track in a high-powered e-kart.

Meanwhile, two floors below, a team stood in the construction site for the new Marks & Spencer store, which opened earlier this week, working out whether they could hear the e-kart or not.

Momentum Group, which was involved in the delivery of both spaces, had brought in an acoustician to monitor the vibration levels.

“Everybody signed off that it was within tolerance and it’s not been mentioned since then, “ says Chris Renshaw, who co-founded Momentum with Chris Bliss (pictured below, left with Renshaw) in 2019. Extra dampening of the structure before it sat on the slab had done the trick.

Chris Bliss and Chris Renshaw

The scene is a fun insight into the complex, highly skilled world of project management and construction – and, more specifically, the repurposing of redundant space into new leisure and retail destinations which they were not originally designed for.

New tricks

Gravity – with its mix of e-karting, urban golf, AR digital darts and more – and M&S now occupy a building which had opened 15 years previously as a Debenhams. For Grosvenor, that means lost income replaced and enhanced. Momentum is now working with Gravity on its next site, at Westfield Stratford, and hopes to continue on the leisure operator’s ambitious rollout programme.

Renshaw and Bliss first met on Liverpool ONE, with both working for Grosvenor on the retail-led regeneration. Bliss, a development and property management professional, had joined the landed estate in 1997 and rose to become estate director of Liverpool ONE; Renshaw, a construction professional, has notched up experience project managing the commercial construction and fit-out of four terminals for Heathrow Airport as well as leading delivery teams on Southgate Bath for Multi Development, Liverpool ONE for Grosvenor and Golden Square Warrington for Lendlease.

The pair say they have large-scale mixed-use schemes in their DNA and saw an opportunity to streamline and condense what can often be a drawn-out and “clunky” process for dealing with empty space. Lengthy time lags as asset managers pull in different experts, go backwards and forwards with a tenant, go through legals and eventually put the project out to tender can create heightened risk – even of the prospective occupier going bust in the meantime.

Theirs is a “one-stop shop” offering advisory services through to construction, as well as a facilities management arm. The core team is now 57-strong. They know their landlord clients deliver “eight out of 10” of the feasibility studies produced by the advisory business, so it’s worth the construction arm working them up into “oven-ready schemes”. That means it can be ready to start delivering them within seven to 14 days of the landlord completing the agreement to lease with the occupier.

With the growth of repurposing, they are also seeing occupiers wanting to engage with them as fit-out contractors during this phase – rather than waiting to be handed a “cold, dark shell”.

Speed is of the essence

Increasingly, this involves working with online retailers coming into the “sticks and bricks” market and independents without property knowledge. That means the whole process of design through to delivery can be overlapped.

“The occupier then rings the till quicker and the landlord gets the rent quicker,” says Renshaw.

Momentum began with a strong retail focus, but moved early into reinventing spaces for other uses. It delivered the transformation of the redundant retail space in the former Next building, a stone’s throw from Liverpool ONE, to include the UK’s first inner-city storage hub, which opened last year. StoreAway took 36,000 sq ft over four floors to house more than 400 lockers as well as flexible office space.

Momentum also delivered the 20,000 sq ft Urban Playground for Mellors Group in two former Arcadia units at M&G Real Estate’s Arndale Centre in Manchester.

The new leisure concept – which includes The Cube, based on the TV show – formally opened in February 2022.
“That really showed us how the shopping centre world was starting to change and develop,” says Bliss.

“Shopping centres and high streets are always developing, always changing, always reinventing themselves. But this move now – with all these leisure operators we are working with – really shows that the best places to shop are now becoming places to go and do things.

“When we started Momentum, it was still very much retail-focused and there’s been a really quick change in the market. With big spaces coming back to landlords, they’ve had to find creative ways of moving on to different operations.”

Renshaw and Bliss recently delivered esports venue Level Tap at Liverpool ONE and only expect the trend for experiential offers to continue. It feeds into all aspects of their work, including their management teams who find themselves smoothing the waters in environments that were used to retailers and restaurateurs quietly getting on with their business side by side and are now opening their doors to leisure operators with noisy equipment and “enthusiastic” punters.

“The big-box leisure guys are sometimes less cognisant of their neighbours,” Renshaw says, smiling.

Momentum is also beginning to get more involved in office projects and is pitching for residential conversions.

“We know there’s a housing crisis in this country and we know we want more people to live in our cities and in our towns. So while we’ve got these big empty boxes, we should be thinking about whether we can convert them into homes – and could we add some experiential space, and could we add some offices,” Renshaw enthuses.

“The property world tends to be fairly traditional, it doesn’t like taking risks. But unless landlords want these boxes to stay empty, they need a mindset that says, ‘let’s give it a try’.”

Julia Cahill, 17/08/2023