Birmingham, the second city that for years had towering ambitions to turn the city into a in-Manhattan and Chicago, but that failed to turn 99% of these ideas, dreams and hopes off the drawing board into cold world of reality. Well, on the back of a number of key hurdles being passed, signs within the industry may well seem to indicate that the confidence the city had in mid 90s may well have come full circle and is now on its way back to the top.
From the 245m Arena Central Tower in the mid 90s soon to be followed by the 190m Holloway Circus Tower, Birmingham seemed to be a place on the up. Following on from the success of the award winning Brindley Place and the start of construction work on the £500m Bullring, the turn of the millennium left Birmingham as a place with a Buzz - Birmingham had a desire and was seen to be moving forward, and it was.
No other regional city in the country came close to the proposals Birmingham had, and with the development of the 245m Arena Central Tower, it was even giving London a run for its money by proposing the countries tallest building!
To this day, one can not pin-point the moment Birmingham's "Boom Time" started to fail, but in terms of its towering ambition, all signs suggest 9/11. All high-rise proposals were cancelled, put on hold or drastically reduced in height. Confidence in the skyscraper had hit an all-time low, and this, linking with the completion of the city's Bullring, spelt the end of Birmingham's time in the spot light. Momentum had been lost, and although the city had come on leaps and bounds since the decade before, the city's development sector had stalled.
Between the year 2000 and 2006, Birmingham had only been able to drag two significant high-rise proposals off the ideas board into reality. The 122m Beetham Tower, which after setback followed by yet more setbacks finally managed to take the title of "Birmingham's Tallest Building" and even for a small time the title of "Tallest outside London", and the much criticised 90m Orion building - hardly the mini-Manhattan councillors had suggested! By now Birmingham was being overshadowed by its northern competitors and a majority of its prestigious developments remained firmly wedged in the world of red-tape.
However, now 2007 has made itself known, has the tide of falling confidence in the city finally turned? Has Birmingham finally got its momentum back and could Birmingham soon be back again as the place to be in development and regeneration terms?
So what has happened?
In 2006, Birmingham had finally managed to kick-start three of the largest developments in the city. It was finally able to sell the prime Great Charles Street plot which had stood empty for over 40 years, it had managed to reinvigorate the stalled Arena Central development and was about to unveil its proposals for the long awaited Snowhill scheme. These developments that had been talked about for years had finally been put back on the agenda and things were finally being done in turning these ugly blots on the city's landscape into the landmark developments they deserve.
Between 2006 and 2007, Birmingham had gone from a place that had been described as a "City not knowing where to go", to a place full of development potential. From MAKE's 17 storey CUBE to its 25 storey sloping towers at City Park Gate, Edwards Cullinan's 105m office towers at Masshouse and Richardson Cordwell's 133m 38 storey Broad Street Tower to the new 120m sister towers proposed at New Street Station, things were looking up for the city. But what has changed from before and what was there to suggest that these would ever see the light of day?
In 2006, Glenn Howells in partnership with Ballymore Properties made the jaws of the Birmingham property sector fall to floor. The final phase of their relatively low-rise Snowhill office scheme was to be a departure from the rest of the development - two sister towers, one a 82m hotel tower, the other a 137m 43 storey residential tower. Yet another scheme to stick on the drawing board a sceptical planner may think, but by mid 2007, the towers had been unveiled, been into and passed through the other side of the planning system, and work was beginning on site.
Until this point, Birmingham had just expected most large developments like this to get hampered down with red tape, be delayed, and in many cases go back to the drawing room or be put on hold. But the Snowhill towers had passed through the system in record time, and not only this, but for once the developers had no intention of hanging about. The site today is littered with tower cranes and steelwork constructing the first phases, with cranes and diggers drilling down the foundations to the tower as we speak with the tower set to rise within weeks.
Down the road, MAKE's unique and boundary pushing CUBE development has also started construction. Following months of trying to find a developer who would build such a high calibre building, owners the Birmingham Development Company pushed ahead regardless and formed their own construction company to carry out the works.
Birmingham is now building again, and although it may still lag behind its northern counterparts in terms of crane counts, industry insiders don't think this will be for much longer. With these two major developments now underway, it is thought that that the long awaited plans for Great Charles Street will be out in the coming months, and the newly reincarnated Arena Central Tower - now the 146m V Tower - is thought to pass effortlessly though planning system with construction on site expected in late 2007/early 2008.
On top of this and the plethora of mid-rise proposals that seem to be progressing through the city, the developers behind a future sky-needle type development - ROC International - Has hinted its proposed 175m Vertical Theme Park (VTP175) may well push towards the 200m mark.
Although no-body knows what the future holds for Birmingham and its towering ambitions, a number of facts can be concluded. The next coming months may well be very exciting for Birmingham. There are a number of large plots and masterplans which are due to be unveiled in coming months, developers are speaking for the first time in nearly 10 years of building towards the 200m mark, and Birmingham is currently home to the tallest building under construction outside London - Snowhill. Times have never been so good for Birmingham's skyscraper dream. However the million pound question is how much further will it go and for how long?
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