When Margaret Thatcher died last April, among the many tributes to her legacy was the development of Canary Wharf and her decision to turn to Canadian Paul Reichmann.
The two became famously bound in 1987 when then Prime Minister Thatcher phoned Mr. Reichmann and asked him to do what seemed impossible at the time; transform a stretch of derelict London dockyards called Canary Wharf into a glittering financial centre.
Over the next three years, Lady Thatcher rammed through tax breaks, promised to extend the underground and turned the area into Britain’s first enterprise zone. Meanwhile Mr. Reichmann’s Olympia & York built Canary Wharf’s first tower, the 50-storey One Canada Square which was then Britain’s tallest building. It opened in 1991 just as the recession hit. Within a year Olympia & York fell into bankruptcy protection. Mr. Reichmann eventually reclaimed control over the site and then lost it again in a takeover battle with the current owner, Songbird Estates which is now backed by Qatari and Chinese sovereign wealth funds.
Today Canary Wharf is a sprawling financial district that includes 35 buildings where more than 100,000 work every day. And there is much more to come with an additional 10 million square feet of commercial space and condominiums slated for construction along with a stop for Crossrail, a new high-speed train service.
“You need to be a little bit crazy to get into something like that because we didn’t realize how difficult it was,” Sir George Iacobescu, a former Olympia & York executive who now heads Canary Warf Group PLC, told the Daily Telegraph last year.
“We had to create a mini city and the cost of putting in the infrastructure was humongous. Only probably in the last five or six years have we fully recovered the money we invested from 1987 to 1991.”