Developing mixed properties with a two-decades view marks Chris Stewart out from the pack, finds Bob Serafini
Chris Stewart is a man who is prepared to go the extra mile - or extra 1,000 miles as he proved recently - to get what he wants. Winning Scotland's developer of the year in 2014 and best individual contribution to Scottish property in 2015, this 40-year-old businessman is at the top of his game.
His best known project is the transformation of a labyrinth of 11 former council offices in Edinburgh city centre into a £46 million development, opening up formerly graffiti-covered closes and winning several awards. He calls it "recreating the higgledly-piggledy nature of the old town".
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Advocates Close, a mix of 1950s buildings, Victorian property, and 15th century townhouses, between the Royal Mile and Waverley Station, brought German group Motel One to Scotland, delivered 50 five-star serviced apartments popular with corporates, universities and well-heeled tourists, as well as restaurants, bars and offices.
That was two years ago, but his feet have hardly touched the ground since - including heading for Lithuania to address a banking and administration crisis.
Established in 1996, and with a reputation as a trusted developer, the Chris Stewart Group has delivered 650,000 city centre projects for office, hotel, residential and leisure use. The firm employs 30, then the same again in architects, engineers and subcontractors, and can have 200 to 400 people on site at any time.
Next to the Playhouse theatre, under the Calton Hill, the firm is currently on site at Baxter's Place, converting a 1789 Georgian terrace into a 240 bedroom four-star Marriott hotel. This was funded after securing significant capital from global investment advisory group Proprium. "One of the key benefits was that they don't have a closed end fund and are long-term investors. We have a slightly different view of the market from most and for us it is about looking 10, 15 or 20 years ahead."
Last month the company took its first step into Glasgow, purchasing a complex of historical buildings, including the Parish Halls, just off the city's George Square from City Property for £5.1m. It is yet another exciting "untangling" job with the upgrading of A and B listed properties.
Stewart's self-confessed obsession with detail is facing one of its biggest challenges with new plans announced this month for The Registers, a £60m restoration of a beautiful art deco banking hall in the capital's St Andrew Square.
This 1942 American inspired neo-classical building is the former headquarters of RBS and was bought for £20m in pre-crash 2007 by Hearts FC's Vladimir Romanov.
As well as restoring period interiors, outside elements of the office, hotel, brasserie and retail scheme include the creation of 60,000 sq ft of new Grade A business space, across a newly pedestrianised lane leading through to the Café Royal, and opening up of several rear gardens not currently open to the public.