Bunhill: Grand wave to the Baltic

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The Independent Online
I HOPE I'm wrong, but I have a horrible suspicion that the magnificent trading hall of the Baltic Exchange will end up as a miniature shopping mall, its airy grandeur cluttered with twee boutiques.

The whole building - or what is left of it after the IRA's bombing of St Mary Axe - was put up for sale last week. The shipping market, which has matched cargoes to ships there for 90 years, is moving to smaller premises.

According to property experts, the most likely fate of the hall is as a foyer, complete with shops, for an office block that would be built above it. There is planning consent for nine storeys of offices.

I wandered around the derelict trading floor last week, dodging the pigeons and broken glass. It will take painstaking work to restore it to its former condition.

But even now the splendour shines through. The Grade II listed hall was built at the turn of the century, when nothing was too much trouble for a great City institution. The designers insisted on cladding the pillars with the same marble used in St Peter's in Rome. No matter that the quarry had been closed for four centuries. They simply reopened it.

The building would make a magnificent corporate headquarters. The surveyors, Hillier Parker, say they have had 32 expressions of interest so far. But it will be a brave company that tries to justify the hall as a 17,500sq ft reception area.

The buyer will have to pay about pounds 5m- pounds 10m for the site, and then spend another pounds 12m- pounds 15m on restoration.

One law firm wanting space for 800 staff has registered an interest, I understand. Could this be those puritans at Slaughter & May, finally fed up with their lino-clad headquarters?

An alternative use is as a hotel. Certainly the City could do with an alternative to the shabby Great Eastern and the carbuncular Tower Thistle.

The best idea I've heard so far is for a huge restaurant, a gastrodome to out-Quaglino Quaglino's.

Anyway the hall must be preserved, but not, one fervently hopes, as a shopping mall.

Alternative suggestions please - there's a bottle of bubbly for the best idea.

(Photograph omitted)