Magnifique, mais ce n'est pas Manhattan
Sunday 14 December 1997
And now Parisians are about to join the so-called "loft revolution" that has transformed living in central London.
John Hitchcox is the youthful and dapperly dressed co-founder of the Manhattan Loft Corporation which, since its foundation in 1991, is credited with pioneering loft living in Britain by converting light-industrial buildings and warehouses to residential use. The firm also has a track record of recognising the potential of neglected areas of London such as Clerkenwell and Bankside, which have become two of the capital's hottest addresses since MLC moved in.
But now Mr Hitchcox has his sights set on the depressed Parisian property market where he is in negotiations to buy up to 20 properties, including an abandoned convent, factory, ex-municipal building, old telephone exchange and traditional apartment block.
After persuading the British to live in lofts - and they are a conventional lot who have never taken to flat dwelling - Mr Hitchcox is confident that he can persuade the Parisians, with their tradition of city-centre apartment living, that lofts make perfect homes.
"I have a passion for Paris," he says, "but the whole city needs some injection of excitement. There hasn't been a great new major restaurant there for years. Things have become very conservative."
Working in partnership with Coprim, a Parisian property firm, Mr Hitchcox's team scours the city in search of suitable empty buildings. Then begins a longprocess of locating the owners who, in most cases, turn out to be banks that have repossessed properties after the collapse of businesses.
"The banks have sat on many of these repossessions for years," Mr Hitchcox says. "Now at last they are beginning to release them, but the system is much slower than in England." On top of that stamp duty can be as much as 20 per cent of the selling price (in England and Wales it is between 1.5 and 2 per cent).
His first deals are expected to be signed in the next 10 days and the lofts could be up for sale by next summer. Prices will range from about pounds 100-pounds 300 per sq ft, as opposed to pounds 150-pounds 500 in London. Units will start at about 800 sq ft.
As in London, Mr Hitchcox will be selling empty shells which buyers convert into the home of their dreams with the help of an architect. Double-height ceilings, raw brickwork and ancient timber floors tend to come as standard, but you choose everything else.
Mr Hitchcox insists he will not be telling Parisians how to live, but showing people how lofts "allow you to be an individual by creating your own environment". And just as loft livers made Clerkenwell hip, he believes eastern parts of Paris may soon become cool.
He is confident that the ground floors of his developments will be taken over by British restaurateurs. In recent weeks many of our top chefs have been on scouting missions to the French capital.
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