LIVERPOOL'S sleeping giant, the Stanley Dock Tobacco Warehouse, has finally been awoken by an Irish-born developer who left school at 14 to become - of all things - an apprentice brickie.
The dramatic transformation of what is the world’s biggest brick-built warehouse will be revealed in just a few months when the first show flat opens to the public.
Its sheer scale, spanning 42 acres with impractically low ceilings, has thwarted developers for decades.
Seven years ago, 75-year-old Pat Doherty took on the grade II listed building that had bewildered everyone else. He was told he was mad for doing so.
Now work is well advanced in converting the Regent Road landmark into 538 apartments, which, because of the original design of the building, will provide homes crammed with nooks, crannies and character. The starting price is currently thought to be around £180,000.
Doherty is chairman of Dublin-based Harcourt Developments who have already transformed the nearby Jesse Hartley warehouse and adjoining rum warehouse into the handsome Titanic Hotel and conference centre complex, ploughing £200 million into the entire scheme.
He told Liverpool Confidential : “Ten years ago we wouldn’t have come to Liverpool. We just wouldn't.
"But seven or eight years ago I saw this place and saw its potential. I glad we came then.
“We had been doing restoration work on listed buildings since the 1960s so we were not daunted by Stanley Dock. Some people did though think we were a bit mad for taking this on.
Pat Doherty: 'Ten years ago we wouldn't have come to Liverpool'
Despite being empty for so long, the Tobacco Warehouse, he said remained in a good condition. Mainly because there was no timber - and therefore no dry rot - at all in any part of the warehouse. It's solid brick
“We are doing something different here, because of the heights of each floor of around eight feet. The floor to ceiling height was the biggest problem. So we have created a corridor on every third floor. You come into the front door and there is the kitchen and living room, and then go downstairs to bedrooms and a bathroom and on the opposite side you go upstairs, We have cut through the floors to give a height of 16 feet. So the apartments will be very unusual.”
A huge chunk of the building's centre has been removed to provide natural light to the dwellings.
Asked how he felt about taking on this mammoth project in the heart of the run down north docks, Doherty told Liverpool Confidential: “Our projects in Dublin and Belfast were much bigger. In Dublin our scheme was in Park West, what would have been called a no-go area.
“We are also doing a 100 acre dock scheme in the US and the military hospital conversation in Portsmouth.
“I feel very proud about what we are doing in Liverpool. I like the city very much.”
Doherty’s journey started when he embarked, at the age of 14, on a five-year building apprenticeship in his native Donegal. His frst wage packet was £4. Realising in London he could earn £14 a week he crossed the Irish Sea intending to stay for six months. London is still his home, but he also has a house in Donegal.
His close colleague, Harcourt Director Patrick Power is very much hands-on with the Stanley Dock project.
The mammoth Tobacco Warehouse is in surprisingly good nick owing to the fact that there is no timber inside. It is the largest brick-built building of its kind in the world
He described how work is currently under way to create three large courtyards in the Tobacco Warehouse so that every apartment will look outwards as well as inwards towards the light.
“More than 100,000 people have been through the Titanic Hotel since we opened it two and a half years ago.
“That gave visitors a chance to see the Stanley Warehouse. We were interested in what is a big scheme. When we first came here there was not a lot going on, so this has been something of a catalyst for the whole area.
“We have another scheme planned for the Salt Warehouse up here as well. We have also been working with Harvey Goldsmith in the British Music Experience which will be opening in March in Liverpool.”
Pat's the way to do it: Pat Power of Harcourt, which is responsible for the £200m renovation of the Stanley Dock complex, talks to Pat Doherty
Power said it was the collaboration with Harvey Goldsmith that created the idea of building a revolving theatre as part of the vision for the 10 Streets project.
Although he could not say when the revolutionary theatre would arrive, Power said people were already working on the project.
Harcourt has been named as the city council’s development partner in the newly branded Ten Streets project.
A major performance venue, with a revolving auditorium, will be at the heart of regeneration plans for Liverpool’s new creative district.