THE head of the company behind the massive St James redevelopment says he is ready to bring further new investment to Edinburgh – creating jobs and boosting the Capital’s economy.
Michael Sales, head of TH Real Estate (THRE), which oversees nearly $100 billion of investment around the world, discounted both the UK’s departure from the European Union and the prospect of a second Scottish independence referendum as factors which would undermine the city’s future success.
Visiting the Capital to see progress on the £850 million project – which includes 850,000 sq ft of retail space, a luxury hotel, 150 new homes, 30 restaurants and a multi-screen cinema – he said Edinburgh was “buzzing” and a place people wanted to be.
“Edinburgh is a major destination and we don’t think that is going to change.”
THRE is one of the largest real estate investment managers in the world with interests across Europe, the United States, Asia and the Pacific.
In addition to the St James development, the company recently bought the Omni Centre across the road for more than £75m and plans to transform it into a “leisure destination”.
The 200,000 sq ft leisure complex is anchored by a Vue Cinema and home to restaurants including Nando’s, Frankie & Benny’s and The Filling Station.
An industry insider said at the time the investment was a “fantastic vote of confidence in Edinburgh”.
Mr Sales, who has been with the company for 23 years, said: “We will continue to invest in the projects we have and we’re absolutely up for more investment in Edinburgh, because we have a number of different mandates for different clients which allow us to invest in the retail market, the office market, the logistics market.”
He ranked the Capital along with places like Berlin, Helsinki and Madrid as one of the most attractive European cities for investors.
“It’s about quality of life, it’s about the feel of the city, you can see why people want to be here,” he said.
“The place has a vibrancy – the tourists undoubtedly help – and that’s a major factor in our thinking.
“The whole vibrancy of Edinburgh makes you want to be in this town. From my perspective that’s only going to get better as places like this get built.
“There are the universities – and people underestimate the power of having those top institutions close by – and the impact that has on the local economy in terms of the education of the workforce.
“It hits every single box for us on our checklist of why we want to invest in a city.
“Edinburgh is going to become more and more the hub and the city where people want to be.
“And with that critical mass, more and more people are attracted – so that’s what we think is going to continue to happen.”
Mr Sales said THRE focused on investing for the long-term in the world’s most thriving cities which had a bright future.
He said: “We’re very committed to cities. For a long time research has looked at countries, our view now is we look at cities.
“When you look at Edinburgh as a retail offer it’s unique.
“Leave out Brexit, leave out independence, Edinburgh is always going to have its place, is always going to attract people, it’s always going to have its university population and therefore we think it’s a place we need to be in over the long term.
“Leave aside politics, Edinburgh is here to stay.”
He acknowledged other developers and investment companies might take a different view for the potential impact of Brexit and/or independence.
“There’s a lot of decisions made behind closed doors and I don’t want to second guess the competition,” he said.
“We just have our view on Edinburgh being a great city and it will continue to be a great city and that’s why we want to invest in it.”
Mr Sales also has a nostalgic link to the Capital from the early days of his career.
“The first deal I ever did as a fund manager back in the mid-1990s was in George Street, so personally I’ve always had a great affinity with Edinburgh.
“We took the old Lloyds Bank unit and let it to Hard Rock Cafe – and it’s still there.”
SNP councillor Gavin Barrie, who was the city’s economy convener before the local elections on May 4, welcomed Mr Sales’ comments and the prospects of further investment in the Capital.
He said: “It’s absolutely fantastic to have such interest in the city from big players who appreciate what Edinburgh has to offer and see a great future here.
“I completely share his optimism on the future of Edinburgh regardless of what happens on the political or constitutional front.
“Edinburgh was vibrant before we were in Europe and in or out I’m sure it will remain that way.
“If we become independent, it will become a capital city in its own right and that would enhance the city.
“Either way, Edinburgh is big enough and has sufficient enthusiasm and dynamism among its people to ensure we remain a powerhouse and continue to punch above our weight.”