A CITY centre office block which is so out-of-date it was almost demolished is now going to be converted into ‘affordable and innovative’ workspace for just £750,000.
Three years ago, Oxford City Council had planned to knock down a building it owned at 1-5 George Street and rebuild it, with an estimated cost of £9.75m.
But last year, the council’s research found out that it would take years to turn a profit on the new building.
Now, it hopes it can refurbish part of the run-down block, at 1-3 George Street, for £750,000, to make it suitable for start-up businesses.
The buildings’ tenants were cleared in 2018, apart from 5 George Street, which is still occupied by Ask Italian.
At a meeting last night, Oxford City Council’s scrutiny committee discussed a report which said there is £1.93m of funding available from the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership.
The council wants to use this to refurbish 1-3 George Street and another building it owns called Standingford House on Cave Street, which is currently an office for 19 businesses.
According to a report, once finished, both buildings would be used to ‘provide affordable and innovative workspace to facilitate the inclusive economy’, or as a council officer at the meeting described it: start-up space.
City council leader Susan Brown told the committee the refurbishment would help boost the local economy after the pandemic, and bring the environmental standards of buildings up to scratch.
She added that it was a ‘good time to be doing this’, as people often set up their own businesses following economic downturns.
Ms Brown said: “This is quite a normal situation when you have had a period of quite high unemployment, which is unfortunately what we seem to be hitting into.”
On top of the £1.9m from Oxfordshire LEP, the council plans to spend £4.25m of its own money on the two schemes.
Of this total of £6.18m, only £750,000 would be spent on George Street, with the hope of finishing this by spring 2021.
The remaining £5.43m would be spent on Standingford House.
Green councillor Craig Simmons raised concerns about the site on Cave Street, and had questions whether an adjacent garage would be included in the bid. He added: “I urge you not to include the garages in the development plot for commercial but use it for residential.”
Ahead of the meeting, the city council’s deputy leader Ed Turner said it was ‘committed to increasing the supply of good quality commercial office space that local people and businesses can access’.
He added: “We will use the funding to bring forward more affordable and accessible space and to remove barriers for entrepreneurs in less well funded sectors like creative, digital and social enterprises.
“We will engage with existing tenants to ensure we support existing businesses as well as creating new jobs and opportunities.”
The council’s cabinet will vote whether to adopt the plan to refurbish the two buildings next Wednesday (July 15).