The BBC, whose annual expenditure runs to $4.3 billion, and with almost 25,000 employees, has come up with a radical proposal for Television Centre (TVC), its historically protected, 50-year-old building that's in dire need of a fit-for-purpose overhaul and TLC.
According to MediaGuardian, the 23-acre site, a prime slice of real estate, is to be turned into a cultural center, the idea being that a whole raft of creative organizations, from orchestras to independent production houses, performing arts companies, and even media firms—such as YouTube—will want to rent space in it. Except, no one can guarantee those types of tenants will be interested.
The BBC is expected to sell the site to property developers (a neighboring site has just been reborn as monolithic mall Westfield, the largest "in-town shopping and leisure development in Europe") and they will be a lot keener to squeeze huge amounts of money out of it rather than turn it into something innovative yet riskier.
When FastCompany.com contacted the BBC to discover more about the project, it denied that they would be using TVC once it is sold. "It's premature to suggest that [the BBC] will lease back any space," replied Kate Brewer, Communications Coordinator. "It's up to the new owner to figure out how to develop within the constraints of listing. The BBC won't be insisting on a contractual obligation on the Developer to secure other creative tenants—this will be driven by market forces."
That doesn't quite square with the views of Chris Kane, the BBC's Head of Workplace, interviewed in the MediaGuardian piece. Describing the one million-square-foot site as "the family silver" he emphasized that he was not up for selling it cheap. The decision to move, however, was a difficult one. "The thinking was we couldn't just sell this and leave it to the vagaries of the property market. My worst fear is that it would be sold and end up like Battersea Power Station. It has to be something different."
The Beeb is central to the nation's cultural heritage—both at home and abroad—and Kane is well aware that whatever decision he makes may not be popular. Change, however, is unavoidable—yet the U.K.'s publicly funded broadcaster is an unwieldy beast of an corporation, the kind of place where you have a seven-man committee solely in charge of replacing blown lightbulbs. Director-General Mark Thompson—the CEO, if you like—has spent almost a decade reorganizing the place, sending whole departments 160 miles north to Salford, cutting the workforce, and moving the corporation's news arm to another building seven miles away.
This is not the first time that the BBC has had to rejig one of its flagship buildings. Its refurbishment of the art deco Broadcasting House in Central London to provide its news teams with a state-of-the-art newsroom (with a whole bunch of extras tacked on for good measure) has cost $1.5 billion, with the end still not quite in sight. Kane, however, is wise to this. "It's about regeneration, where the BBC is the catalyst to drive a new creative quarter, not just for London, but for the whole creative industry for the U.K.," Kane says. The BBC wants to do something, working with public and private world-class partners. It's about land and brand, and will put the U.K. creative industry on the world stage."
Whether or not the capital's creatives will be happy to move seven miles due west from Soho remains to be seen. They currently feeding ground is slap bang in the middle of the British capital, where local restaurants hoover up a good proportion of media execs' expense accounts, be they TV, advertising or magazine people. W12, the zip code for Shepherds Bush, is, Westfield included, a bit of a desert for food, bars, boutiques and the like. Kane had a strange postscript to add to this point. "How do we make up for the loss of the creative buzz? We're next to one of London's most deprived estates, the White City Estate. We're in a unique position. That gave rise to the writing of the vision for W12, for the next 50 years, asking what is our legacy for future generations."
[Image via Mike fleming on Flickr]