The time to invest in Preston is now. That’s according to a graphic designer and businessman who has a real vision for his home city.
Ben Casey, director of developer Etc Urban and founder of design consultancy The Chase, says the time is ripe to express the city’s unique character.
He says that Preston is going through a renaissance with fashionable bars, restaurants and apartments opening up, bringing new life to the city’s streets.
Speaking to the Post, Ben said: “It’s an exciting time in Preston’s chapter.
“It feels like the city is turning and we have to grab it with both hands. It has got quite a lot going for it, there’s so much opportunity.
“More than ever people like things that are different and not just the tried and tested. There’s also a real opportunity here because of the Preston model.”
Ben is banging the drum for the city’s future as a wave of new initiatives has brought fresh hope for quality entertainment and living spaces downtown.
Autumn saw a rush of new independent establishments throwing open their doors to the public, including the long-awaited Plau Gin and Beer House.
The bar in Friargate was three years in the making and owners Jeremy Rowlands and Rebecca Scott feel there is new confidence in the spirit of the city.
Jeremy, who also owns The Continental, The Moorbrook pub, The Plungington Hotel and The Ferret pub with Rebecca, said: “Preston is an exciting place to be at the moment.
“I think Preston’s been under-resourced for a number of years now in terms of places to go, places to eat and drink and there’s not been much confidence in the city but that’s really changing now.”
Telling the Post how residents have taken to Plau, he added: “The reaction has been fantastic. All the feedback has been great.
“We’re hoping it will rub off on people and they will put the same standards into their places.
“I think Preston has got more confidence than it did have. More and more people are starting to wake up and see that actually Preston has got quite a lot to offer and increasingly so.”
KimJi, a new Korean restaurant in Winckley Street, has meant that fans of the cuisine don’t have to trek to Manchester for a fix of Bibimbap.
On the same street, chef and businessman Mark O’Rourke has added pie and ale eatery The Otter’s Pocket to his growing portfolio of restaurants which includes tapas bar Fino and burger joint We Don’t Give a Fork.
Meanwhile fashionable loft apartments are well on the way at The Union Carriage Works in Guildhall Street courtesy of Etc Urban.
And in a similar vein, 14 luxury apartments are being transformed from the old EH Booths headquarters.
Behind the conversion is Tauseef Kantharai of TSS Property.
He said: “We are a Preston-based developer so we have seen the property trend over the last 10 years since the recession and over the past four or five years, we have seen property prices go up in Preston which shows a sign of confidence which has a snowball effect amongst investors.
“With the London market saturated and seeing a drop, more investors, especially foreign investment, have their sights on the northern powerhouse.
“As Manchester gets more expensive, Preston is a secondary city to live and work now. With its fantastic transport links, proximity to other larger cities, employment prospects and house prices, it’s a no-brainer to why people may want to live here.
“Having worked in Manchester for a number of years, I see the same trend growing in Preston.
“We need more high quality housing, a few large anchor stores on our high street and I believe Preston will be there in the next five years.
“People want nice housing, good places to eat and drink and an attractive and safe high street shopping experience.”
Ben’s experience, moving his firm The Chase to Manchester 30 years ago, echoes this sentiment.
“There wasn’t that much going on at the time in Manchester at all. There was a music scene but that was it really, it didn’t have the excitement that it has now.
“Where we’re based in Manchester now there’s 60-storey buildings and countless new restaurants. If you’d have said that 30 years ago people would have thought it was ridiculous.
“Manchester developed because the creative community led it. Creative companies tend to move where its cheap place to rent then of course they make it fashionable. It has a snowball effect.
“With the right ambition and the right development from the council it’s achievable in Preston as well.
“It can’t move fast enough for us really. How long can the city hold the potential before it ceases to have any? Preston needs to get to get a move on.
“It’s the time for the private sector, the entrepreneurs, to come out and be counted. Let’s make Preston the alternative city of the North West.
“You can expect a lot of change in a short time.
“Manchester is getting expensive now.
“Friargate is starting to develop its own look and it’s interesting.
“Winckley is a very interesting area. It’s getting them on the circuit. Lots of people never think to walk down there. It really should be part of the cultural experience.
“The Harris Quarter is now a real cultural quarter with the Guild Hall and Charter Theatre.
“Church Street in Stoneygate has enormous potential.”