OWO is our largest redevelopment, it is the group’s commitment to Britain

The Hinduja Group co-chairman, G.P. Hinduja. Special Arrangement  

The Hinduja Group recently put up its OWO Residences by Raffles, Europe’s first Raffles-branded residences, on the market. Targeted at ultra-high-net-worth individuals, who may aspire to own a piece of the Old War Office, the property’s redevelopment is set to be completed in 2022.

How significant is this development?

We have a great liking for heritage buildings and we gained great experience in restoring Carlton House Terrace, which is our residence now. We have a good team in place under the company Westminster Development Services (WDS). This vertical will work on the development of heritage properties. My son Sanjay and my daughter-in-law Shalini (wife of Dheeraj Hinduja) have been actively involved in this project. We are already in negotiations with 2-3 more such iconic heritage properties.

For the Hinduja family and the Group, this is our largest real estate redevelopment. The Old War Office (OWO) has seen many wars and bad times; our aim was to transform this into a destination of tolerance, peace and happiness. It’s a message to the people from us that it’s better to have peace, tolerance and happiness than war.

We also wanted to leave behind a legacy. We never expected we would face many challenges but we worked towards making this a trophy project in the U.K., Europe and world over.

There is nothing quite like ‘The OWO’ — a building constructed in 1906 for government and war. In the 21st century, it has undergone a transformation on a scale never achieved before, bringing it new life and purpose. We have tried to maintain its originality. We are converting a Grade II listed century-old building into luxury, serviced residences with a five-star hotel, nine restaurants and bars and a luxury spa.

Located on Whitehall, close to 10 Downing Street, St James’s Park, Buckingham Palace and the Palace of Westminster, The OWO is one of London’s most important locations. The OWO directly faces Horse Guards and is adjacent to the stunning 57 acres of St. James’s Park.

Residents, hotel guests and visitors will be a short stroll away from Buckingham Palace, The National Gallery, The Tate and The Royal Academy, as well as the sought-after shopping [avenues] of Regent Street, Bond Street and Jermyn Street. Whitehall has taken a new shape. Our late father always taught us to act local and think global. He also taught us to be a bridge between the home country and where you live. We have been living here for 40 years and we wanted to create a legacy of our contribution to the United Kingdom. The OWO is our commitment to Britain.

What has gone into making this?

It has been a journey of learning and discovery, restoration and conservation, alliances and partnerships, and even the most unexpected — a global pandemic. We have brought in the world’s best architects, engineers, craftsmen and designers to create a location never seen before for homeowners, hotel guests and visitors.

Having undergone a monumental and painstaking transformation over the last five years, this landmark is set to complete in 2022 and will also comprise the Capital’s first Raffles Hotel with 125 rooms and suites, a collection of nine restaurants and bars, and an immersive spa.

We worked closely with key organisations specialising in historic buildings including Historic England and the Prince’s Regeneration Trust.

What was the objective behind acquiring this iconic property in 2014?

Our objective and vision are for The OWO to become a place that represents peace and tolerance, which enthrals everyone who steps through its doors, creating special memories for hotel guests, residents and visitors for generations to come. We have redefined the purpose of the building with the best private residences anywhere, whose owners will know and understand they are part of something truly unique, and will be able to share our vision for the future.

What was the cost of acquisition? How much did you invest in restoration?

There is a huge demand for private residences in the pandemic-hit world. We have received good response. However, we are being very careful in giving these apartments because we want to conduct a KYC and background check for every buyer.

The total value of the project was £1.2 billion. At the time, the media widely reported the purchase price was £340 million. We had a Switzerland-based company as a partner in this project; however they faced some financial difficulties mid-way due to the global pandemic following which we bought their shares. This is owned 100% by the Hinduja family.

So far, we have spent five years on the redevelopment to reach the stage today where we are launching sales of The OWO Residences by Raffles. We are about to realise our vision and dream of building a unique trophy project in London.

What is the estimated capital value you are expecting?

Our motivation for acquiring the building was not one based on the capital value it might achieve, but rather on our passion for creating a legacy for London that would benefit generations of Londoners and visitors to the city.

However, we do expect The OWO Residences to be some of the most valuable in the capital because of the extensive amenities, the location, and the heritage of the building, which — quite simply — you cannot find anywhere else in London.

How challenging has the restoration been?

This is a monumental transformation of an enormous building — with over 1,100 offices spread across 2.5 miles of corridors. We have had to ensure the building remained structurally sound while adding over 180,000 sq. ft to provide 760,000 sq. ft of floor space with new floors to both the existing roof and basement.

A real challenge for our architects, engineers and contractors, it was an architectural feat that our team has executed successfully.

Whom are you targeting for The OWO Residences?

These properties will attract global purchasers who want an unrivalled location in London’s Whitehall, exemplary Raffles service and quality, privacy, security and discretion. This is a rare opportunity to buy a piece of British history.

There is no other residential development that provides owners with access to 9 restaurants and bars, a flagship Raffles hotel, and the dedicated residents’ amenities that will be offered at The OWO.

The most expensive property in the complex...?

The starting price for 2-bedroom residences is £5.8 million. The most expensive will be the larger turret residences (each with a private 3-storey turret) and the two penthouses, each of which are ‘price on application’. There are penthouses which could be around £150 million and four- to five-bedroom residencies would cost in the range of £7,000 to £8,000 per sq. ft. As we have announced the commencement of sales this week, it is too early to share the pricing of these residences.

The project has been introduced at a time when the global economy is severely impacted by the pandemic. What is the strategy to unlock the best value at such a time?

Over the past few months, we have received numerous enquiries from prospective buyers who have heard about the project and registered their early interest. Most of the buyers have signed Non-Disclosure Agreements and they include royalty, film stars and industrialists. Many of these are avid followers of the Raffles brand who have been waiting for Raffles to launch residences in Europe. Others have seen the building under construction, and its proximity to St. James’s Park.

We are confident that this demand and interest will continue as the global economy opens up and people are able to travel into London once more. We have seen interest from China, Singapore, the UAE and Hong Kong.

How will this project contribute to your group’s business?

We are optimistic that sales will progress well, even with the challenges of the pandemic.

We saw The OWO as our opportunity to create a legacy for the Hinduja family, remodelling a historic building associated with Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George and many distinguished generals and politicians.

The building will open to the public and cement our family’s feeling for London and for Britain; home to all communities, faiths and languages, London is a remarkably international and welcoming city.

We have lived and worked in the heart of St James’s, taking scenic walks in its Royal Park and marvelling at its world-famous views of the Mall, Buckingham Palace, the Palace of Westminster and beyond.

What is your Group’s long-term plan in real estate?

For the Hinduja family and Group, this is our largest real estate redevelopment. With our restorations of the Carlton House Terrace and The OWO, our Group company Westminster Development Services has an excellent real estate development team in place. We remain open to other opportunities to restore and redevelop unique historic ‘trophy’ properties across the U.K. and Europe.

Our founder believed land and property increase in value and [he] invested across India. Our real estate company, Hinduja Realty Ventures Ltd., has large land banks across Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai and Mumbai, where plans are in hand for major redevelopments.

Why did you tie up with Raffles Hotels for The OWO?

With its exemplary record providing world-class customer care, experience and service, Raffles is the obvious and natural fit for The OWO. This will be the first flagship Raffles Hotel and branded residences in Europe. I am delighted that Accor’s CEO, Sebastien Bazin, has, like me, taken a personal interest in the project to ensure it is a resounding success and we have developed a strong, close, working relationship.

What is your assessment of the pandemic-hit global and Indian economies?

I am always an optimist and the global economy is resilient and will bounce back — stock prices are high, in the U.K., property prices are rising and across many economies there is some optimism.

For India... I am the country’s best supporter and we have the skill, knowhow and expertise to become a top-five global economy — it is a bed of roses, but there are also thorns.

The government must make it easier and more attractive for foreign investment.

I am an optimist. India has the maximum opportunities if the ease to conduct business is there.If this is implemented well, India can become the third-largest economy in the world in next 8-10 years. The unfortunate thing is, implementation has a long way to go in India. Overall, the Indian economy will bounce back and gain higher ground.

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Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 6:36:21 AM |

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