Singapore-listed Rowsley yesterday announced four investment deals in Manchester, including new ventures linked to the Manchester United Football Club.
The investments, worth £69.1 million (S$150 million) in all, represent the real estate and architecture firm's maiden foray into Britain's property and hospitality sectors .
The company will invest £40 million for a 75 per cent stake in St Michael Investment, a unit that will lead a mixed-use development project named St Michael's in the centre of the northern city.
Separately, Rowsley plans to invest another £29.1 million for a 75 per cent in Hotel Football, Cafe Football and hotel management company GG Collections.
With a gross development value of £200 million, St Michael's will comprise a five-star hotel, luxury apartments, prime office space as well as restaurants and bars on a 0.58ha site - about three-quarters the size of a football field - just a stone's throw from Manchester Town Hall.
Beijing Construction Engineering Group will own 21 per cent of the project. Construction will begin in the second half of next year, and is to be completed in three years.
St Michael's will be Rowsley's second development project, after Vantage Bay in Iskandar Malaysia.
The company sees great market potential in Manchester, which has attracted an increased inflow of people, business and investments, Rowsley chief executive Lock Wai Han said.
"Because the cost of living and doing business in London is so high, we have seen more people and multinational companies move into Manchester in the past two years," he told The Straits Times at a briefing in the city. One of these companies is the BBC, which moved key operations to Manchester's Media City UK in 2011, he noted.
Manchester is connected to London by a two-hour train ride, but its housing prices are about one-quarter those of the capital city, according to average figures provided by the Land Registry of England and Wales.
"There's also a considerable student population in this area - of about 100,000 people - thanks to the famous universities in Manchester. Many among them are Asian students, and that presents us an opportunity to market St Michael's to Singapore and Chinese buyers," Mr Lock said.
Rowsley's decision to debut its British ventures in Manchester coincides with the British govern-ment's push to market its northern cities such as Manchester and Liverpool as viable investment destinations alongside the capital.
"We want to rebalance our country and we want Singaporean and other South-east Asian investors to help us to do it," British Prime Minister David Cameron said last month during his visit to Singapore.
Aside from its status as a northern economic hub, Manchester is Britain's third most popular tourist centre with more than one million international visitors annually, owing partly to its world-famous football club, Manchester United.
Against this backdrop, Rowsley will also establish a hospitality portfolio in the region with the investments in Hotel Football and Cafe Football, both partly owned and operated by "The Class of 92" - retired United legends including Gary Neville and his brother Phil, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt.
The investments mark further collaborations between the former United players and Singapore billionaire Peter Lim, who is a major shareholder of Rowsley.
Hotel Football was launched right next to United's home ground Old Trafford in March this year as a joint venture between the two parties. The business has been very profitable as Manchester's hotel occupancy rate rose to 78 per cent in the first six months of this year compared with 75 per cent in the same period last year, Mr Lock said.
The hotel, along with Cafe Football which also has an outlet in London, will be Rowsley's platform to tap Britain's growing football tourism and hotel industry, he added.
Mr Gary Neville and Mr Giggs are also minority shareholders of the St Michael's project. Mr Neville, who had been looking to secure the St Michael's site since three years ago before joining hands with Rowsley, called the project a "landmark" development for Manchester.
"I believe Manchester is entering a new renaissance to become a global business location, and St Michael's is going to be the Mayfair of Manchester, the hero project that people of this city will look at 20 years from now and be proud of," he said.