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Liverpool's first team

16 July 2003 by
Liverpool's first team

Chris Brown looks down at the freight ships in the Mersey and says he knows all about the power of the European Capital of Culture award. As a hotelier in his native Glasgow, he experienced first-hand what the title can do.

Before Scotland's largest city won the accolade in 1990, Glaswegians knew they lived in a great city, but few outside agreed. It was perceived as grim, grimy and violent. "In those days, if you saw an international visitor, it was because they were lost," Brown quips.

Today Glasgow is "the coolest city in the UK", according to the latest issue of National Geographic Traveller. In 1989 it attracted some 320,000 overseas visitors and the following year this leapt to 450,000, a situation which prevails to the present day.

The increase in domestic tourism was more dramatic, with about 2.7 million tourists visiting annually compared with 1.6 million in 1989. Tourism chiefs put the increased interest down to the huge injection of cash, confidence and positive publicity that the City of Culture award (as it was then called) generated for Glasgow.

In 1999, Brown checked out of his hotel career to become director of operations for the Merseyside Partnership, a body responsible for marketing Liverpool. He recognised that Liverpool shared a similar history to Glasgow, and was determined to improve its image. As the home of the Beatles, the Grand National, and one of the most famous football clubs in the world, the city is internationally famous, but at home negative stereotypes have dogged its reputation.

Undoubtedly Liverpool has had it tough. Huge job losses contributed to a population drop from more than a million in the 1960s to 460,000 today. The Militant council during the Thatcher era left it isolated, as large banks refused to lend money to local businesses. History has left its mark, and at 6%, Liverpool's unemployment levels are twice the national average.

Consequently it qualifies for Objective One European Union funding. The effects of some £670m granted since 1993 are starting to show. Objective One money was used to entice Crowne Plaza and Marriott in 1998, and help kick-start a hotel investment boom.

About £15m of European money also helped the John Lennon International Airport to become the fastest-growing airport in Europe. Last year it handled 2.8 million passengers, a 26% increase on 2001, and 3.2 million are forecast this year. Population decline has now stabilised, says the city council, and city-centre living is rising fast.

As Stephen Roberts, general manager of the Crowne Plaza, puts it: "When the opportunity to come to Liverpool came up three years ago, like most people my initial thought was: ‘Liverpool? You must be joking.' But on arriving here, you can't help but be impressed by what already existed, and the cranes on the skyline. It was obvious the city was regenerating."

If Liverpool follows Glasgow's example, the Capital of Culture title will put paid to outdated prejudices. Brown believes there's the potential to make even more of the award than Glasgow could in 1990 because of the rise of low-cost flights and short breaks.

The euphoric scenes that greeted Liverpool's successful bid last month are now receding memories. Investors and city leaders are left with the hard slog of fulfilling their ambitious plans in time for 2008. These include a 10,000-seat arena and conference centre at the King's Dock. A £750m retail scheme, including two hotels, 143 shops, 360 apartments and numerous bars and restaurants, is set to transform the city centre. A cruise-liner terminal is due in 2005, and plans for the "Fourth Grace" - a controversial cloud-like building designed by Will Alsop - to add to Merseyside's famous skyline have been approved.

The rapid growth brings the worry of making sure that by 2008 the city isn't one huge building site. But the decision-makers are confident. "If you look at Barcelona winning the Olympics, they did 25 years' work in five because of the timeline," says Brown.

And that's why Capital of Culture 2008 is the icing on the cake for Liverpool. It already had great plans for the future. Now it's got a deadline to make sure they happen.

European Capital of Culture 2008

As European Capital of Culture, Liverpool will host a full calendar of events and exhibitions during 2008. These will reinforce the city's role as a regional shopping centre, a UK and European tourism destination, and its cultural heritage. Highlights include:

  • The opening of a museum of comedy, which will launch an international festival of comedy.
  • The opening of the World Discovery Centre at the Central Library, which will offer digital access to Europe's biggest public records archive and a link-up with America's Ellis Island visitor centre.
  • A deaf and disabled arts festival.
  • A festival of light involving 700 representatives from faith communities.
  • The fifth Liverpool Biennial, featuring 50 international artists.
  • The launch of an annual American and Irish festival, linking New York, Dublin and Liverpool
  • The world's biggest stargazing event via the International Space & Astronomy Centre (opens 2004).

A report by ERM Economics, commissioned by Liverpool City Council, estimates the title will generate:

  • An extra 1.7 million visitors and extra spending of more than £50m a year.
  • £200m in increased tourism spend.
  • Public and private sector investment of £2b over the next five years.
  • 14,000 new jobs in the culture and tourism sectors.

Hotel Growth

Liverpool's steady hotel growth is now seeing a sudden burst of activity. A 162-bedroom Travel Inn Metro opened in April, a 130-bedroom Premier Lodge in May, the Racquet Club, a members' club with eight bedrooms, opened last month, the

55-bedroom Hope Street hotel opens in September, and a 200-bedroom Radisson SAS is due at the end of the year. A £14m, 150-bedroom Malmaison hotel and a 70-bedroom Alias hotel are planned for next year.

Melvin Gold of consultant PKF commented: "The market has been transformed in terms of supply by the opening of the Crowne Plaza and Marriott hotels five years ago. The city's occupancy 75.6%] is well above the regional average [69.3%]. But there are still challenges. The city does relatively poorly in room rate, which is £10 below the regional UK average. They've got to get room yields up by an increase in room rate. With the Radisson SAS opening shortly, there's the risk of oversupply in the short term for Liverpool, but the Capital of Culture in 2008 gives the city something to work towards."

How hotels have grown

YearNumber of hotelsNumber of bedrooms
### The Racquet Club A law lord, film director, two actors and a pop star are booked into the Racquet Club's aubergine-carpeted bedrooms tonight. Owners Martin Ainscough and his sister Helen are visibly pleased with the calibre of guests they are attracting after being open for just three weeks, but professional discretion prevents them revealing names. The Ainscoughs own a handful of food businesses in the area, the best-known being Ziba, which brought the aesthetics of Terence Conran to Liverpool's eating-out scene five years ago. As newcomers to selling bedrooms, they felt the city was crying out for something of quality. They watched Liverpool's hotel growth with interest. "There's a definite market for something with a bit more glitz, because the product on offer is extremely undifferentiated," Martin says. A desire to consolidate saw them sell their caf‚ Number Seven to 60 Hope Street restaurant and use the proceeds to buy the former gentlemen's sporting club in the financial district. Martin explains: "We've decided we want to do a few big things rather than a lot of little things. Petty and bureaucratic legislation means it makes more sense to have fewer risk assessments." An estimated £700,000 has been invested, and the Ainscoughs have moved Ziba restaurant into the ground floor of the club from its Berry Street location near the university. They aim to attract more lunchtime trade from business workers. The club has squash courts, sauna and plunge pool, gym, snooker tables and a banqueting room for up to 150 guests. With IT and secretarial facilities, it is also ideal for business clientele without an office in Liverpool, Martin says. And given "the great demand" the club has experienced since it opened last month, Martin is already wishing he had more than just eight bedrooms. Racquet Club Hargreaves Buildings, 5 Chapel Street, Liverpool L3 9AA Tel: 0151-236 6676 [www.racquetclub.co.uk](http://www.racquetclub.co.uk) Annual turnover forecast: £2m Eight hotel bedrooms: £95 per night, including use of gym but not breakfast Ziba restaurant: 100 covers, with average spend of £30 Annual club membership: £550 ### Hope street hotel Business flair and a love of symphonic music have built the foundations of Liverpool's first boutique hotel. Having made the city their home since university in the early 1980s, David Brewitt became a property developer and Andrew Bentley is well-known as the former director of Liverpool's Philharmonic Concert Hall. Together with Paul Askew, former chef of the Philharmonic Hall's restaurant and banqueting services, the pair are set to open the 48-bedroom hotel across the road from the concert hall in September. Askew will head the kitchen of Pi restaurant on the hotel's ground floor. Including a loan from the Bank of Scotland, the partners have invested a total of £3.6m in the former 1860 warehouse, which was built in the style of a Venetian palace. Bedrooms will include solid cherry and oak furniture, plasma TV screens, plenty of natural light, and under-floor heating. Because all three partners are new to the hotel game, they have challenged certain conventional practices. Bentley explains: "We decided not to have a main contractor for the building work, so effectively we have been directing the operation ourselves. This makes it cheaper and means we have more control." The hotel will not issue swipe cards, which Bentley says are an example of "wrapping your guests in nappies". He believes the heating and lighting cost savings they provide are negligible. A chat with guests as they hand in their keys at reception is more important in creating the desired atmosphere. "After studying the operation of different hotels, it's surprised me how much of the operational activity is geared towards the convenience of the hotel staff and not the customer," Bentley says. This revelation also influences his views on management. "We don't want someone jaded by corporate culture who's used to working with systems, not people." After a fruitless search for a manager, the obvious person was staring him in the face - Mary Colston, his ex-colleague and former front of house manager at the Philharmonic. The trio are keen to raise expectations as well as standards in Liverpool. Askew explains: "We welcome competition. Liverpool clearly needs and deserves an awful lot better restaurants than it's got, and the rotten old hotel stock should give up the ghost or do it properly." And since he's determined to get Liverpool's first Michelin star, standards are only going to get higher. Hope Street hotel 40 Hope Street, Liverpool, L1 9DA Tel: 0151-709 3000 Email: [sleep@hopestreethotel.co.ukNumber of bedrooms: 48, including seven suites Forecast occupancy: 82% Standard double: £115 Restaurant Pi: brasserie 70 seats; fine dining 50 seats ### THE FINE DINING RESTAURANT - 60 HOPE STREET Chef Gary Manning is still smarting over the review of his restaurant, 60 Hope Street, written by Matthew Norman in the *Telegraph* last month. It's not what the critic said about the food that he minded, more the tired old clich‚s about Liverpool and car crime. And the quips are hardly fair, as you enter the smart and elegant Georgian building on Hope Street, where Manning's restaurant is located. "We've got two cathedrals at either end of the street, three theatres and you can park outside the restaurant. All the tour buses go past here now," he says. "Hope Street was once known for prostitution and that's all Matthew Norman picked up on, but it's not like that any more." Manning and his brother Colin have owned the restaurant for four years, quickly building up a reputation as one of the best restaurants in town, with a modern British menu, Conranesque decor and a loyal upmarket clientele. Dishes on the menu range from Formby asparagus tart with poached egg and rocket and seared scallops wrapped in pancetta with red pepper salsa starters, to Goosnargh duck with rosti potato and caramelised chicory, and fillet of cod with creamed cabbage and smoked salmon. Average spend is about £40 with wine. "The food is simple, no mucking around and very seasonal," Manning says. "We like to educate and try new things, but I'm not into accolades. We're busy, and that's what matters." Covers for the 70-seat restaurant are currently at 70 in the evenings and 25 to 30 for lunch. Business has grown over the years with a core of business and local clients, yet Manning knows that to survive he needs to do more. The brothers are, therefore, covering all options. While the restaurant and private dining room above caters for fine-dining tastes, downstairs is a caf‚ and bar - with separate entrance - offering high-class fish and chips and bistro food. A third acquisition is the bistro across the road that sells pasta, pizza and sandwiches with outside seating and a drinks licence. "Liverpool is a price-sensitive place and that's why we've got the café downstairs and the bistro across the road," Gary says. "We're busy here but we still need to make more money. It works at the moment because I'm in the kitchen and Colin is out front, so wage costs are saved, but it would be difficult to take a talented chef on in the kitchen who's asking for the appropriate wage." But with business going well and the new status for Liverpool, Manning is positive about the future: "It's the kick-start we needed. Everything goes full circle. We were the best in the late 1800s and now we're back to where we belong. If we can instil a sense of pride in the Liverpool people and they can hold their heads up wherever they go, the rest will follow." ### THE ENTREPRENEUR - Robert Gutmann Liverpool has Kenny Dalglish to thank for Robert Gutmann's arrival in the city 18 years ago. The 18-year-old Londoner officially came to study history at the university, but his main reason for choosing the city was to follow his all-time footballing hero. These days, Gutmann has a following of his own, being the owner of some of Liverpool's hottest celebrity haunts, including the Blue Bar and Grill, private members' bar Baby Blue, the Pan American Club and Beige, all down at Albert Dock. And we're not just talking local footballers and Northern soap stars here. High-profile clientele include Samuel L Jackson, Liam Gallagher, Davina McCall, Mel C and Ray Winstone. Gutmann is described as a business phenomenon in Liverpool, having invested a total of £3.5m into the city since he started in 1993. It was then, with £60,000 from his father Mike and £100,000 from the bank, that he set up the Lyceum Group company and opened the Lyceum café and bar. His reasons for going into hospitality were simple. "I wanted to combine my social life with a career. I loved Liverpool from a personal point of view and I supported the football. It was a brilliant city even throughout its economic decline, but I felt it needed to offer more in terms of the social scene to its population. I wasn't an operator, but I was an experienced customer." The Lyceum opening was followed by the launch of the Library restaurant and bar in 1995 and a contract to run the restaurant and bar in the Tate Gallery, Albert Dock. In 1997, Gutmann sold the Lyceum for £600,000 to finance the opening of the Blue Bar and Grill a year later, also at Albert Dock. Baby Blue, Liverpool's first private members' club, opened a year later in the 19th-century vault below. Gutmann invested £1m in the Pan American Club in August 2001, which increased total turnover for the group to £5m after a year and workforce numbers to 200. His most recent venture is his partnership with Cream, the clubbing empire headed by James Barton, which will result in the rollout of a new lounge-bar concept called Baby Cream, the first of which will open in Liverpool. Success has been down to keeping his finger on the pulse of fashion and maintaining a strong food element at his sites, according to the 36-year-old. "We tend to find the in crowd and feel we understand what's required of us. People here know what is bog-standard and what is cutting-edge, so we've always been prepared to pay more to get good people and good produce in," he says. Gutmann is optimistic about Liverpool's new status. Trade is up 25% on this time last year and he expects to double turnover within the next year. "Getting the status is akin to winning the Olympics. It will change the face of the city as we know it. It feels like boom town." ### THE OTHER PLACE GROUP A second restaurant in Hope Street opened in 1999 because of popular demand. "We had become one of the city's busiest restaurants," Benson says. "We couldn't keep up with demand." Constant requests for the restaurant's food as take-away items led Benson and Millar to lease a third premises a few doors away in Allerton Road and open it as a deli. They hired McCabe to run the kitchen and opened on 4 March. The shop is taking about £5,000 a week and is expected to bring in a turnover of £250,000 for the year. It takes projected turnover for the group next year up to £1.1m. "We found that people were asking to buy our products and that planted a seed which grew from there," Benson says. "We were originally going to just have some shelves in the restaurant, but the demand grew. Now people are travelling from all parts of the city to come to us." ### EGO RESTAURANTS Inspired by their Mediterranean travels, school friends Jason Ellison and Jonathan Poole, both in their early 30s, opened their first Ego in Heswall just four years ago. For £21 a head for dinner and £5 for lunch, you can sample roasted aubergine, rosemary and pepper soup, saut‚d chicken livers and pancetta salad, black bream roasted in olive oil with chorizo and saffron risotto, or spiced pineapple served with caramel sauce. Every item of the menu is cooked fresh and on the premises. Two years later the pair opened Ego in Hope Street, Liverpool, to bring the chain up to three - the third is in Chester. "If you were going out for meal a few years ago, there wasn't much available, and the bar scene was more of a pub scenario," Poole says. "We wanted to have a crack at the market here." The Liverpool site "is trading its socks off", according to Poole. It's a high-volume restaurant, with the 100-seater doing about 80 covers for lunch and up to 200 for dinner. Group turnover is £4m, the Hope Street site bringing in £1.2m. "This unit has exceeded our expectations but you have to be clued in," Poole explains. "There are a lot of people in this city who are serious about their food, so you need to give them high-quality food. Everything here is home-made - we don't use microwaves. "The trade's good here, but it's like everywhere. If you're good, the trade's good, if you get it wrong you can expect to fail, and that's how it should be." The pair are actively looking for more sites in the city, although getting the right site with the rising property prices is becoming increasingly difficult. But as Ellison says: "In the last 10 years the city has reinvented itself beyond belief - it's a shame because everyone could see at the time that there were buildings and places crying out to be used." ### PAUL HEATHCOTE Before Paul Heathcote opened Simply Heathcote's in Liverpool two years ago, he was given a useful piece of advice. His friend Robert Wade Smith, the man behind the Wade Smith store (Liverpool's answer to Harvey Nichols) told him: "If you're coming to Liverpool, there's something you should know about Scousers. If you're going to sell them a T-shirt by Versace, you need to make sure the brand name is in massive letters across the chest." "I think what he was trying to tell me was that everything has got to be upfront here," Heathcote says. "Scousers like to spend money on themselves and they can afford it, but they need to let everyone else know that they can afford it as well. If you can get that right, you'll win them over." Heathcote took this on board two years ago and designed his restaurant in Liverpool's financial district accordingly - modern, with lots of granite and huge glass windows. "The glass walls mean people can see in as well as out," he says. "It's about making a statement and it's worked - when you come here on a Saturday night, it's all designer brands and Champagne. We sell more Champagne here than anywhere else." Opening in Liverpool was an opportunity not to be missed, according to Heathcote, although he admits that, five years ago, he had preconceived ideas about what Liverpool was about. "I'd heard the stories about not being able to leave anything around without it being nicked, having trouble getting the right staff, the city being scruffy and dirty," he says. "But I have to be honest, in the last two years none of those ideas has ever come to fruition. It's been the complete opposite." Simply Heathcote's in Liverpool is now the best-performing site for its size. The 70-seater does 60 covers at lunchtime and 80 for dinner most weekdays. On Fridays and Saturdays covers go up to 150. Average meal price is £5 to £6 higher than at his other three sites at £70-£80 for a meal for two. Since opening two years ago, he's also bagged contracts with Liverpool Football Club and this month is supplying all food for a series of pop concerts at Albert Dock. He plans to open an Olive Press restaurant in the city later in the year. "We're going to do more in Liverpool, absolutely," he says enthusiastically, "and we'll spend more money on this than we've spent on any of the others. It's nothing to do with the Capital of Culture status, we would have done it anyway, but it will help business."
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