Building with art and soul set for a new era

When Hepper House was built in 1863, a number of major art movements were gaining momentum. Neoclassicism, romanticism and impressionism were all gathering pace across Europe as artists reacted to the fast-paced changes of the world around them in an era of invention, discovery and urbanisation.

Amid this burst of creativity, the Gothic revival-style building, on East Parade in Leeds, was built for auctioneer John Hepper and over the years works by some of Britain’s finest artists have been sold there.

Now the Grade II-listed building, one of the UK’s only purpose-built auction houses, is entering a new phase after it was bought by Wilton Developments.

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The Leeds-based developer bought the 5,755 sq ft building for an undisclosed sum in a deal transacted by agents Pudney Shuttleworth and Jones Lang LaSalle.

It is the first time the building has been sold. Hepper and Sons was taken over by Phillips in 1976 and they in turn were acquired by Bonhams in 2002. It has remained empty since 2007 when Bonhams moved to 30 Park Square.

Jason Stowe, managing director of Wilton Developments, said: “We felt it was a very interesting piece of real estate with lots of potential and we are getting our thoughts together on what we are going to do with the building.”

Hepper House has planning permission to be turned into a wine bar and wine merchant but Mr Stowe said there was also potential for offices or apartments.

He added: “We are looking at it with a commercial eye and ensuring we don’t do anything that doesn’t do justice to the building. We are aware it is listed and any plans will have to take that into consideration.”

Richard Shuttleworth, director at Pudney Shuttleworth, said: “Hepper House is one of the more characterful properties in Leeds city centre. The building lends itself to a variety of potential uses and it will be exciting to see Wilton Developments’ longer term plans come to fruition.”

The building includes sales rooms, a “library style” mezzanine floor, offices and storage space arranged over lower ground, basement, ground and first floors.

It is the second building Wilton Developments has bought in Leeds city centre in recent weeks. The company, together with Clugston Estates, also acquired 15-16 Park Row, an office building previously occupied by property agent Colliers International.

The developer has remained active in the property downturn. In 2010 it completed a major refurbishment of 10 South Parade in Leeds, for which it won the North of England, Wales and Northern Ireland Award for best refurbished/recycled workplace from the British Council for Offices.

It also bought and developed Midland House, renamed 2 Bond Court, in the centre of Leeds and has been involved in transforming the wider Bond Court area.

Elsewhere, it is working on a £6m building on Turbine Business Park in Sunderland in a joint venture with Clugston Estates.

Mr Stowe said: “Our remit hasn’t changed in that we are motivated by profitable projects and don’t develop for the sake of it. We pick and choose our projects.”

He added: “We have not been affected by the credit crunch because we are a privately financed organisation, which has enabled us to be proactive.”

Figures show that office space in Leeds is being soaked up faster than new offices are coming to the market.

The city recorded take-up of 540,000 sq ft in the first three quarters of 2013, an increase of 61 per cent compared to the equivalent period in 2012.

The Grade A vacancy rate fell from 3.8 per cent at the end of 2012 to two per cent at the end of the third quarter of 2013.

With anticipated rising competition for premium grade A space, incentive levels may soon start to reduce whilst rents start to rise.

Mr Stowe said the market was moving back in favour of landlords.

“Leeds has a certain size of office stock and the city hasn’t expanded as quickly as it could have done, which is understandable given what we have gone through,” he said.

“We see the pendulum swinging back to us. We are not having to give away offices rent free and offer incentives. It is becoming a landlord’s market rather than a tenant’s market. Any tenants coming up to a lease break and thinking they will get a fantastic deal will have to move sooner rather than later.”