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Liverpool’s ‘Three Graces’: Opening the landmarks up to the public

Liverpool’s ‘Three Graces’: Opening the landmarks up to the public

Britain’s only dedicated museum of popular music, a wedding venue and plans for a world class visitor attraction – how Liverpudlians interact with their ‘Three Graces’ is changing.

Move Commercial explores the possible benefits of making this trio of celebrated buildings more accessible to the public and what it could mean for their long-term futures.

Words by Lawrence Saunders 

Look but don’t touch. For the last century or so Liverpool’s famous ‘Three Graces’ have been off limits to the majority of inquisitive locals.

Whilst tourism chiefs implore visitors to gaze upon the majestic Royal Liver Building, Cunard Building and Port of Liverpool Building, access to anything more than a visual has been restricted.

Can you imagine visiting New York for the first time and not being able to take the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building?

A more communal element may have arrived on the Pier Head a good while earlier if the late Will Alsop’s ill-fated ‘Fourth Grace’ had ever been built.

Unlike the original trio, Alsop’s daring ‘Cloud’ building was designed with public interaction very much at the forefront.

A hotel, restaurant, bar, rooftop space and an attraction focused on the city’s musical heritage were mooted.

If that last idea sounds familiar then it’s probably because Britain’s only standalone museum of popular music has since been located in the passenger lounge of the Cunard Building.

“It can only be a positive thing that we have helped open up this amazing space to the public”.

Although a healthy portion of the artefacts are Liverpool-related, the British Music Experience (BME), which opened in March 2017, is much more than The Beatles Story-lite with over 600 rare items on display including the costume worn by the great David Bowie on the night he ‘killed off’ Ziggy Stardust.

It also provides the city with another venue option for business networking, book launches, film shows, and has played its part in high profile city events such as Light Night and the Mersey River Festival.

Occupying the other half of the ground floor at the now Liverpool City Council-owned landmark is Signature Living.

The familiar Liverpool-based property developer and leisure operator has converted the space into what it calls the city’s “most iconic wedding venue”.

The combined presence of the BME and Signature Living means locals and visitors alike are now able to better appreciate this Grade II*-listed gem.

“It can only be a positive thing that we have helped open up this amazing space to the public,” says Kevin McManus, curator of the BME.

“We and our visitors are respectful of the fascinating history and splendour of the building and while we celebrate its legacy, we also ensure that it remains current and accessible to local, national and international visitors.”

“We have a lot of tourists who visit the building and are disappointed when they cannot enter the property”.

For the city’s mayor, securing the long-term security of the Cunard Building was an important factor behind the council acquiring the landmark for around £10 million in 2014.

“One of the reasons we bought the Cunard Building, aside from the fact it was a great investment, was to secure its future for the people of the city and use it as a public building, as well as generating income from renting out space inside,” says Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson.

Perhaps inspired by the goings on at its next-door neighbour, the Royal Liver Building revealed its own ambitious leisure plans this summer.

Acting on behalf of the building’s asset manager Corestate Capital, CBRE’s national building consultancy team submitted multiple planning applications for renovations that will take “Liverpool’s iconic Royal Liver Building into the 21st century”.

Proposals include the delivery of a “world-class visitor attraction” operated by Heritage Great Britain and a new restaurant fronting onto the Pier Head.

“After 110 years it’s now time to open [the building] to the public,” a spokesperson for Luxembourg-headquartered Corestate tells Move Commercial.

“We have a lot of tourists who visit the building and are very much disappointed when they cannot enter the property.”

It’s understood plans include an element in one of the well-known clock towers, which we’re told will aim to make the building “one of the top 10 tourist attractions in the UK”.

Whilst maintaining the Grade I-listed building will remain very much a commercial asset with a focus on office space, Corestate is insistent that the landmark needs to be more accessible to all.

“It’s something that needs to be shown to the public,” adds the spokesperson.

“The view you can have from the viewing deck on the roof is just stunning.”

The plans for Liverpool’s most famous building and activity at fellow ‘Grace’ the Cunard Building have gone down well with the organisation responsible for promoting the city as a global destination for visitors.

“I’m very excited about the work that Heritage GB is doing in the Royal Liver Building,” says Chris Brown, director of Marketing Liverpool.

“The ‘Three Graces’ have always held a special place in peoples’ hearts – as the centrepiece of our famous waterfront they are arguably the most famous images of the city, and intertwined with so much of its history.

“The three buildings offer fantastic office space but if we can combine that with top drawer attractions as well, that can only be a good thing for the city’s visitor economy.”

You may have noticed we’ve only mentioned two of Liverpool’s big three so far.

That’s because the eldest of the trio has been slightly more hesitant to allow the public access inside to peruse its splendid granite staircases and magnificent marble corridors.

Built in 1907 as the headquarters for the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, the Grade II*-listed Port of Liverpool Building was acquired by Amtrak Real Estate from Downing in 2015.

Managed by Helix Property Advisors, the building remains an office development with current tenants including Rathbone Brothers, Hapag Lloyd and Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha.

More than a decade ago the council approved plans for new viewing areas inside the landmark’s spectacular dome, as well the creation of a publicly accessible sunken piazza filled with shops and restaurants.

Whilst these impressive leisure features ultimately failed to materialise, Downing did complete a comprehensive refurbishment of the building which included returning the internal atrium back to its former glory.

Tourists eager for a peek inside do still have limited access via Mrs Danvers Café, a 1930s style tearoom located on the ground floor.

Move Commercial contacted Helix for comment regarding any future plans for the Port of Liverpool Building but received no response.