Sharp Project refurbishment granted £6.3 million - MIDAS

Sharp Project refurbishment granted £6.3 million

Investment of £6.3 million in digital media hub, The Sharp Project, is being granted by the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

The former Sharp European Distribution Centre on Thorp Road in east Manchester will be refurbished into a £16.5 million digital content production complex which will provide a range of sound stages, office and production space, combined with a world-class infrastructure for digital companies.

Urban regeneration company New East Manchester is currently converting the warehouse in Newton Heath. Funding of £3.3 million from the NWDA and £3 million from ERDF will complete the overhaul and equip the building for its new use. Completion of works is expected during Autumn 2010.

Funding from NWDA/ERDF is expected to create 13,000 sq m of digital business space, assist 85 digital businesses and create 550 jobs in the digital sector. The project will also support a recruitment programme which provides training and job opportunities for local people.

Stephen Timms MP, Minister for Digital Britain, visiting The Sharp Project on March 17th, said: “This Government wants to build a world-class digital knowledge economy for the UK and it is projects like Sharp which will make this vision a reality. Through the Digital Economy Bill, we are putting in place the framework to support a digital infrastructure and industry fit for the 21st Century. Being digital is vital to growth, jobs and getting on in society and I welcome this investment in the Manchester’s digital industry which will bring wide business and economic benefits across the Northwest.”

Steven Broomhead, Chief Executive of the NWDA, said: “Manchester has long been regarded as the UK’s emerging media city, and has developed a global reputation as a creative powerhouse. Retention of this is critical for the future growth of the creative production sector – the Sharp Project is Manchester’s response. The Sharp Project will build a critical mass of skills, supply and demand which will strengthen the City’s role as the home of creative industries.

“Our intention is to support the establishment of a world class digital and content production centre, complement the development of MediaCityUK, increase new businesses and contribute to the regeneration of East Manchester.”

This is in addition to the substantial funding Manchester City Council has invested in acquiring the building and preparing it for occupiers. The council has stripped the building back to its core and the first phase is almost complete. Tenants will be moving into a refurbished two-storey office block next month.

The building complex provides approximately 200,000 square feet of office and production accommodation and is within a short walk of the Central Park transport interchange, which incorporates a Metrolink station that is due to open in 2011.

Investment will ensure that the Sharp Project becomes a regionally and internationally significant employer, supporting businesses and creating or safeguarding jobs. The scale of the project will meet demand from a fast growing sector that is a regional priority.

When complete, the hub will offer:
- 1,400 m2 (15,000 ft2) of office space for use by established digital media companies.

- A studio and design offices block with catering, reception and social facilities, together with approximately 3,500 m2 (38,000 ft2) of production space available on flexible terms.

- The Central Warehouse, incorporating up to 2,900 m2 (31,000 ft2) of office/wardrobe/make-up/production space as well as a music studio and a green screen studio suitable for motion capture filming, a key technique for animation.

-A further 5,200m2 (56,000 ft2) of set and other storage space, plus additional production/office units in the second warehouse.

-The fast broadband connectivity and high capacity power supply that this sector needs in order to successfully do business.

The ERDF programme is backed by the Programme Monitoring Committee (PMC) – a group of senior representatives from across the region. The Group was formed to monitor, oversee and advise on the delivery of the programme and proved invaluable to the development of the new fund.

Mike Emmerich, Chief Executive of Commission for the New Economy and PMC member, said: “This is a really important project for East Manchester and Greater Manchester as a whole and one New Economy is happy to have supported. The funding will help regenerate the area, whilst creating new business opportunities, jobs and harness talent in the digital and creative industries. This grant will enable the Sharp Project to complement the investment in MediaCityUK and maximize the potential of this key industry.”

Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, said: “The creative and media industries have an exciting role to play in Manchester’s economy and the Sharp Project is in forefront of what we’re doing to nurture new businesses and allow existing ones to flourish. This funding, on top of the substantial investment which the City Council has already made, will enable the project to create hundreds of new jobs and complement the development at MediaCityUK to underline the city region’s status as a creative and media powerhouse.”

The concept is to create a high quality, multi-functional space that is suitable for established digital businesses to flourish and for small scale companies to grow, in order to drive forward Manchester’s position as a creative city.

The Sharp Project is located near to MediaCityUK but offers a different type of accommodation which independently owned companies have shown an interest in. The hub will establish a springboard for start up media companies who can grow within the Sharp Project, creating a talent pool for MediaCityUK.

A core aim is to provide affordable and flexible space. There is a lack of affordable accommodation in the city and region but the Sharp Project will address this.

Space offered on flexible terms is one of the project’s unique selling points. High value new enterprises are the main focus of the Sharp Project, and will be supported through innovative forms of accommodation that let start up businesses access space as they need it. Converted shipping containers that are equipped with power and broadband connectivity will be available to rent. The containers can be rented on short or long terms giving companies access to as much or as little space as they need to meet their production needs.

Two broad types of accommodation will be available: production space targeted towards ‘entry level’ and small businesses within the creative and digital industries sector; sound stages and ancillary space to accommodate large scale media production.

Design plans for The Sharp Project include areas of over 30,000+ sq ft specifically for large scale drama sets or single camera shooting space. The building can host the associated production space and offices that are attractive to producers of large scale dramas.

The Sharp Project fills a gap in the market of content production space, providing a purpose-built facility capable of accommodating longer running productions, that require power and flexible space options which currently does not exist in Manchester.

Eddie Smith, Chief Executive of New East Manchester said: “This funding is very welcome and underlines how significant this flagship project is to the region. What we are creating in east Manchester is quite unique and incredibly exciting. This support from the NWDA and ERDF will allow us to further develop the project, helping small digital and creative businesses, creating job opportunities and ensuring talented young people can get the training they need for a successful career in the digital and creative industries.”

Sue Woodward, New East Manchester’s Project Director for The Sharp Project said: “The Sharp Project is about Manchester playing its role in nurturing the digital entrepreneurs of the future. We are basically providing the right environment for talented start-ups and established professionals in the digital and creative sector to flourish. What we have is very special. Not only are we fortunate to have 200, 000 sq ft of space to create purpose-built facilities for digital content production, but we are fortunate to have super-fast broadband connectivity which we can tap into. The level of interest has already been incredible and we’re attracting enquiries from companies regionally, nationally and internationally.”

The building will operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, taking advantage of the high quality e-connectivity and the international connections of some of Manchester’s leading content companies, helping to position Manchester as one of the leading members of the global Virtual Super Studio.

The aspiration is for The Sharp Project to become the UK centre for the digital animation and visualisation industry, placed at the heart of a global network of digital media production centres that are linked by the site’s super-connectivity to companies in North America, Australasia and Asia – part of what is becoming known as the Virtual Super Studio.

The Sharp Project complements work on Oxford Road being done by Corridor Manchester to pilot next generation broadband to businesses and homes, which is funded by the NWDA. Fibre optic lines will increase broadband speeds by up to 100 times.

Source: Northwest Regional Development Agency

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