Architecture: Olympian hopes for revival in the docks

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The Independent Culture
The restoration of Albert Dock, minutes from St George's Hall, has been one of Liverpool's success stories of recent years. The magnificent Victorian dock buildings designed by Jesse Hartley have been converted into the Tate Gallery (by the late Sir James Stirling and Michael Wilford), a television studio, shops, restaurants and flats. Of the 84 shops, only two are vacant, despite the recession.

Now the Merseyside Development Corporation (MDC) is to push ahead with what promises to be an equally high quality redevelopment alongside. The King's Dock, - 30 acres of waterside, shipless since the Seventies - is to be turned into a complex of sports facilities, including a 12,000-seat arena, offices, shops and homes.

The masterplan for the King's Dock has been drawn up by the Richard Rogers Partnership, which will probably also design the arena (a start is promised within the next year) and a show-piece tower that is likely to house a hotel. The Rogers plan has won outline planning permission from the Department of the Environment and is supported by English Heritage and the Royal Fine Art Commission.

The big question, however, is money. Liverpool missed out on the Eighties boom. Its council was in effect bankrupt at the end of that decade, while the MDC, despite the conspicuous success of Albert Dock, made few friends.

Chris Farrow, chief executive of the reconstituted MDC, is nevertheless optimistic. 'Liverpool boasts some of the finest architecture of any city; we've got more Grade I listed buildings than Bath. It's a cheap city to build in, to work in and to live in. It's also got a very high calibre workforce - a National Audit Office report published recently found that Liverpool's white-collar workforce is 20 per cent more productive than anywhere else in Britain; the Government is relocating staff here.

'What Liverpool lacks is modern offices; there's no room for them in the centre. The Rogers scheme offers an extension of the city centre with this type of buildings and facilities. A third of the development is to be to be made over to the 2000 Olympics. Manchester should win the Olympic bid, and Liverpool will stage the aquatic events.

'The new architecture is going to be of the highest quality, but it won't happen quickly. Most of it will be built on a partnership basis between the MDC, the Government and private enterprise. When it does happen, it must match up to St George's Hall, the two cathedrals and the 'three sisters' - the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool building.'

Well connected to the national transport network and 35 minutes from Manchester's international airport, the King's Dock should be the hub of a revived Liverpudlian economy. The project is a tantalising one and to a large extent the future of the city depends on it. The irony is that to get the development off the ground, Liverpool must hope that Manchester - its great rival - will win the Olympics.

(Photograph omitted)