THE PROPERTY developer who said “Leeds has got its mojo back” has left his company with immediate effect.
Rick de Blaby was chief executive of MEPC, one of the most important investors in the city through its ownership of the 22-acre Wellington Place site.
The company played a key role in kickstarting the economic recovery of Leeds when it commenced work nearly a year ago on the first major office to be built in the city since the financial crisis.
MEPC secured law firm Shulmans and private bank Brown Shipley as tenants for the 35,000 sq ft building at Wellington Place.
Breaking ground last May, Mr de Blaby hailed the arrival of Trinity Leeds shopping centre, the Leeds Arena and the forthcoming Tour de France and said he hoped that Wellington Place could play its part in the revival of the city’s fortunes.
MEPC confirmed his departure yesterday. A statement said: “After eight-and-a-half years as CEO at MEPC, Rick de Blaby has decided that it is time for him to seek a new challenge, and will therefore be leaving MEPC with immediate effect.
“Rick led the repositioning of MEPC to become the UK’s foremost manager of exceptional, commanding estates and the executive team would like to thank him for the significant contribution he has made over the last eight years in his leadership role, and to wish him well in his future endeavours.”
Mr de Blaby did not respond to calls for comment.
He will be replaced by James Dipple, a director at MEPC and a veteran of the commercial real estate industry.
MEPC acquired the site in 2007, near the top of the market. Asked how much he paid for the site, Mr de Blaby has said: “I can’t remember and would prefer to forget.”
A spokeswoman said the developer is in “really positive discussions with several companies” about signing up for new office space at the site although nothing is confirmed as yet.
Competition is fierce between rival developers for a limited number of big-ticket office leases in the city centre.
That competition intensified last year with the arrival Roydhouse Properties and its acquisition of the former Lumiere site for the development of a £50m office scheme.
But potential tenants, who are predominantly professional services companies, have been reluctant to sign up for pre-let developments, preferring to stay put in refurbished buildings. Hence the lack of new grade-A office development.
Mr de Blaby acknowledged the challenge in an interview last year. He said: “I accept a lot of people will always be quite sticky in the buildings they are already in, but we have to construct our deals in a way that’s as close to cash neutral as you can make it.
“But you stay where you are in a building, there are other risks with that. If your own competitors take new buildings, you have got to ask yourself whether you can hang on to your top team and your top clients. There’s risks both ways.”
MEPC owns, manages and develops property at seven estates across the UK worth £750m.