Later this year, the £5m Women’s International Centre for Economic Development (pic above) opens in the Baltic Triangle quarter. It is, without doubt, a strong statement of intent for the organisation, and a vote of confidence in this fast evolving area of town.
Maggie O’Carroll, its Chief Executive, is in no doubt: she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“We have a 200 year old oil and lubrication manufacturers and a Chinese supermarket as our neighbours. I love that mix,” she tells SevenStreets. “The area is edgy, funky and very creative, and there’s a real sense that it’s moving in the right direction.”
The brand new facility, due to open in December, is the latest signing for an area which, over the past decade, has undergone a quiet revolution. Not for it the blazing PR and catwalk shows of Liverpool ONE. The Baltic Triangle has developed in the best possible way: from the ground up.
“There’s a clear sense of collaboration and co-operation in the area,” Maggie tells SevenStreets, “and we’re delighted to be a part of it.”
Giant, the excellent bike shop, has already been told to take down its signage protruding from its Parliament Street facade. It’s not in keeping, apparently. So, it is in keeping to let the building rot away, unused for half a century, but not to breathe life back into it, and the surrounding area, and to promote your business? Interesting, that.
Interesting, too, that Liverpool Council has splashed out on environmental improvements within the Baltic Triangle area. The new paving and street works make a stroll to the CUC far more comfortable – and the four new bus stops might even make walking unnecessary. Add to that the new street design and lighting around Jamaica Street, and the area does feel more accommodating after dark (and not in the way it used to accommodate late night visitors). Yet the promised trees have never materialised, much to the dismay of the artists at Arena Studios, on our open studios tour last week. Trees, they want: to become part of ‘Beatles tourism Liverpool’, they told us, they definitely don’t want.
This historic area, if it’s to have any hope, has to look to the future.
Arena studios, together with Leaf, Elevator Studios and the creatives at Milky Tea (the studios behind the Lloyds TSB ‘For The Journey’ ads) now have dedicated loading bays, too. And, with a ten year lease, they have reason enough to plan for a future that doesn’t – in the short term at least – involve having to pack up and look for a new home.
The Baltic Triangle’s website calls the area ‘the city’s well-worn workshop, now a cutting-edge destination where pioneering creatives work and play’. But, while CUC and The Picket, Leaf and the Beer House offer a place to unwind after a hard day’s creating, and residents the Biennial and A Foundation often hold exciting out of hours events, the area still falls largely silent when the work stops.
For Maggie, that’s one area in which more work could be done, if the Baltic Triangle is to develop into a vibrant, essential new creative zone.
“I’ve seen many examples of warehouse districts in cities that have become huge hubs of leisure and creativity,” says Maggie, “and we’d like to see more of that. We’re going to be working here, so it would be great to socialise here, too.”
Citing the need for more public art, a sensible approach to late night licences and activities, and more community and social enterprise initiatives, Maggie says that the area is ripe for redevelopment that’s not just confined to the studios and offices of the few, but for the rest of us too.
“The space is prime for late night activities,” she says, “there are a few residential areas, but away from those it seems highly appropriate that this area should become as thriving as New York’s Meatpacking District.”
There is no doubt – the Baltic Triangle area offers much, much more development opportunity. It’s a fact highlighted in a new series of videos commissioned to showcase the area to creative industries and property developers. It’s an encouraging initiative, for sure, but we’d hope any further residential planning permission didn’t thwart the area’s potential as a creative and leisure space. One thing the Baltic Triangle doesn’t need are light sleepers.
Liverpool Vision, the city’s economic development company, part-funded the six three-minute films. There’s a new one shown every week on the excellent Baltic Triangle website – full of news, profiles and contacts, it’s fast becoming the city’s little black book when it comes to hunting down a can-do creative.
“We feel the films will be an effective way to help the Baltic Triangle showcase its potential to a much wider audience,” says Max Steinberg, chief executive of Liverpool Vision.
“The land proposition is similar to the early days of the Meatpacking District (pic r) or London’s Hoxton – it has that same atmosphere – and in the same way, I’m sure investors and businesses recognise these opportunities. The collaboration between the Creatives producing the films also illustrates what can be achieved when like-minded professionals pool resources,” he says.
The films are great. Short bursts of optimism, and guides to an area that still remains shrouded in mystery: where you’re never sure whether an iron door leads to an MOT centre or an antiques show room.
Mohawk Media produced the films with the help of Liverpool snapper, Mark McNulty who shot the film and creative agency, Smiling Wolf who edited it (and designed the Baltic Triangle website) – all gave their time for free.
“I was really happy to help out on the project because there’s so much going on in that part of the city – tons of amazing visuals and interesting people,” says Mark. “It’s a low-key scene that’s got a surprise waiting round every corner.”
Simon Rhodes, creative director of Smiling Wolf, which is based in Elevator Studios in the Baltic Triangle, agrees.
“It was a creative challenge we couldn’t turn down, especially after designing the brand and website. As a business based in the Baltic Triangle, we also know firsthand how and why its offer is appealing, so we felt well-placed to contribute on all levels.”
Baltic Creative Community Investment Company (CIC) is currently refurbishing a series of sheds, which occupy nearly 40,000sqft to provide more affordable studio space for up to 50 new businesses. The mixed sized studios are due to be completed this month, with new tenants already signed up.
We’d love to have an office there when we’re older. Let’s hope gentrification – for all its commercial benefits – is some time off, and the Baltic Triangle becomes a by-word for all that’s possible in this city.