Joseph Murphy was just a boy when his family’s property company bought the Great Central Station site, off Vaughan Way, in Leicester.
That was in the late 70s, early 80s.
Now, almost 40 years later, Charles Street Buildings, where Joseph is now a director and company solicitor, has revealed plans to transform the site.
And Joseph is in charge of the project.
The £50 million development will see a 150-room Novotel created alongside a 100 room “aparthotel” for Adagio. Both will create around 60 new jobs.
The apartment hotel will offer people longer stay options, with more independence, but with the convenience of staying in a hotel.
The complex will go up on derelict land in Vaughan Way, opposite Highcross shopping centre, and between Great Central Street and Highcross Street.
Planning consent is expected in the autumn and Joseph predicts the hotels will open in early 2019. They will be built alongside new hi-spec offices, a restored former Great Central Railway station and a new public area to be known as Great Central Square.
Joseph said: “We started looking at doing something with the site about three years ago.
“We had originally built an industrial estate on part of it, but these buildings were empty for a long time so in about 2000 we demolished all of it and levelled the site.
“Back then that area of town was not the destination that it is today. With the Travelodge, the casino, the Highcross there is a lot more going on.”
The old railway station building itself, which is locally listed, still stands and Joseph said he hopes it can be converted as a conferencing centre.
It has taken CSB a long time and several false starts to get this far.
Joseph said: “We tried a hotel before, and office blocks, and we spoke to the council about relocating them from New Walk before they went to the new City Hall.
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“We tried a few things over the years but for one reason or another nothing stuck.”
Everything changed in January 2015 when Leicester City Council published its supplementary planning document for Leicester Waterside. The document set out a new, ambitious vision for change and investment which – over ten to 15 years – would “transform Waterside into a thriving place to live and work, and help reconnect Leicester to its riverside”.
Joseph said: “When we saw this, we thought we would be a little more ambitious.”
But the only way any major development on the other side of Vaughan Way would be successful would be if a ‘super’ pedestrian crossing could be built.
Joseph said: “We wanted a super crossing, so that when the pedestrian light went green it would be possible to walk across the whole road in one go.”
The council was supportive of the idea, not least because it would help link Waterside to the city centre, and the super crossing now forms a vital part of CSB’s redevelopment.
Joseph said there is “a fairly clear need for more and better hotels in Leicester city centre and for grade A office space and there is a fairly clear need for the former central station to have some restoration.
“The key point about our redevelopment is to then be able to cross the ring road, so you have a draw one side of the road with new hotels and offices and a new public square and on the other side there’s Highcross shops and restaurants.
“For people working out near the motorway, if they want to pop out and get something they have to drive around. Even getting a sandwich can be a challenge.
“Whereas walking out of here you are in the Highcross within a minute.
“And likewise with the hotel guests. If they are in Leicester for business and fancy popping out, there’s the cinema and restaurants and shops just over the road.”
In total, CSB is developing 4.5 acres of the roughly 10 acres it owns off Vaughan Way.
This includes the former Stibbe factory.
Joseph said the hotels will be run by AccorHotels under a franchise agreement, with CSB retaining ownership of the buildings.
Joseph said: “We have never had a hotel on a franchise basis before.
“We like long leases let to good covenants at reasonable rents.
“So this doesn’t necessarily provide the upfront security we usually look for but it’s a vacant site we couldn’t do anything with.
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“The city is resurgent from things like tourism, which has improved enormously on the back of winning the league.
“It has put Leicester on a national and international stage. And there are other great projects going on surrounding Richard III and specifically now with Waterside.
“So having tried and failed to do things with the site before, this time we think it is a runner.
“It is not something we have looked at as just a standalone commercial development.
“It is a very prominent site and it is also very close to where people will live.
“A lot more things are planned for Waterside and we think if we can get this up and running, hopefully it will be central to getting this side of the ring road redeveloped.”