World famous Parr Street Studios will not be bulldozed

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The building housing one of Liverpool's most iconic music venues – Parr Street Studios – will NOT be demolished under new plans, the ECHO can reveal today.

A developer submitted proposals to Liverpool city council 11 days ago as part of a scheme to erect 114 modern apartments on the site.

The news led to an outcry from Merseyside music fans and performers, emotionally attached with the historical significance of a place where the likes of Black Sabbath, Diana Ross, Moby, Pulp, The Charlatans, Coldplay, Doves, Take That and The Beautiful South have laid down records.

In more recent times, the recording studios, in the heart of the city centre, have hosted high-profile local bands including The Coral, Red Rum Club, Clean Cut Kid, and Blossoms, from Stockport, who have achieved two No.1 selling albums.

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But we have learnt how blueprints, from buyer PJ Percival, involve no plans to bulldoze the structure, but rather pursue wholesale renovation inside the whole centre.

There is an intention to expand the current boutique hotel, which is the most profitable element of the Ropewalks complex, and crucially, the potential new owners are open to STILL providing a home for a top-class recording studio.

Parr Street Studios in Liverpool celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2017

More than 100 apartments are part of the plans, which could include a six or seven storey building, at the same site where pop heavyweights like Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Drake once secretly recorded.

Discussions are set to be held between the potential new developer and the existing tenants, which include those running the recording studio, and popular bars Studio 2 and the first-floor Attic, formerly 3345.

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There is a commitment from PJ Percival to provide significant commercial space, as much as 12,000 square feet, within their new complex, which could pave the way for many of the current occupants to remain, along with the music studio.

This promise has been described as "critical" from the outgoing owners on the verge of selling up, but who still have Liverpool and its musical heritage close to their hearts, they say.

Also included in those talks could be small businesses who occupy up to seven offices within the Parr Street building.

The building is in a state of notable disrepair, and there is also evidence of asbestos in parts of the roof space which needs urgent attention.

How the proposed development on the Parr Street studios site could look. (Credit: Architecture JD)

Parr Street owners – Steve Macfarlane and Thomas Lang – signed a deal with PJ Percival towards the end of the year.

In effect, it started a 12-month period of exclusivity, which included an initial deposit payment, which could see the business completely signed over in December.

Any building work, therefore, may begin in 2021.

The hotel, which has 12 rooms at present, could more than triple with about 36 units.

But it is all subject to planning approval from Liverpool City Council and the proposal going before a full committee, where expressions of support and objections can be heard.

Mr Macfarlane, a former vice-president of a software company, and Mr Lang have been trying to sell the business, which they bought in 2006, for the last seven years.

Justin Bieber at Parr Street Studios in Liverpool

Genuine expressions of interest were made by a variety of prospective buyers, but ultimately, they all fell by the wayside.

Intriguingly, Dave Pichilingi, the owner and founder of Sound City Liverpool, made an approach to Parr Street about October last year.

The music entrepreneur, whose annual festival has been the biggest and most lucrative on Merseyside for many years now, wanted to refurbish Parr Street.

That was part of Modern Sky, his entertainment business founded in China, and with a UK company arm based in Liverpool.

But talks were already well advanced with PJ Percival, and the move was too late.

Mr Pichilingi, who also expressed a tentative interest in Parr Street about two years ago, is keeping a close eye on the situation if the current deal falls through.

Dave Pichilingi from Sound City

Mr McFarlane, originally from Scotland but who has lived in Liverpool for the past 40 years, has personally invested large sums of money to keep the business afloat.

It is now no longer financially viable, he said, and the building "not fit for purpose."

In a wide-ranging interview, the businessman, who bought the studios from a pension fund related to the band Genesis, told the ECHO: "If the sale does go through, it will be a wrench emotionally.

"It's precisely why we are still in the game.

"We took over Parr Street Studios in 2006, only on a five year basis, but here we are, nine years after that.

"This decision to sell has not been taken overnight."

Chris Taylor, studio manager at Parr Street Studios. Photo: Bido Lito! and Mike Sheerin

The businessman, who runs the hotel and acts as landlord for tenants inside Parr Street, including producers in the recording studio, added: "We absolutely want to thank our staff, customers, suppliers, and the whole creative industry, and for everything they have done for us over the last 14 years.

"We are proud of what we have done.

"It's the right time to sell.

"We have to now let it go and let someone else do something with it.

"We can't do anymore.

"We are proud to say that we have enabled many more people to create much more great music than anyone thought would have been possible when we prevented closure back in 2006."

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra record the Hillsborough single at Parr Street Studios with Guy Chambers (seated), Vasily Petrenko and Steve Rotheram MP for Walton, 2012 Photo by by Mark McNulty

Once lockdown finishes, which has significantly hit the Parr Street business, with tens of thousands of pounds lost every month, it will be "business as usual," certainly until the end of the year.

Parr Street Studios have been based at 33-45 Parr Street, since 1991, and before that it stood as a tailoring warehouse.

Since details of the sale plan broke on April 30, music fans and artists across Merseyside and beyond have expressed their shock.

The news left ripples throughout the UK music scene and it created headlines locally, regionally and nationally.

Speaking of his own approach last autumn, Mr Pichilingi told the ECHO: "Our plan was to refurbish the hotel and to improve on what the current proprietors have done.

"With Modern Sky, we put 90% of our albums through that studio.

Venue Studio 2 Parr Street, Liverpool

"It is the best studio in the UK, outside of Abbey Road.

"Liverpool is supposed to be a music city, so why are we selling our music history short?

"We felt we had a strong vision and strong credentials to make Parr Street Studios grow.

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"The building and what's within it is part of Liverpool's history and what makes us fantastic."

Questions have been asked why Parr Street Studios has not acquired listed building status due to its cultural significance.

That is awarded by Historic England, not the council, but it appears such a process has never led to that protection being acquired.

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A report, submitted with the planning application, has attracted criticism around the city, which describes Parr Street Studios as of "low or medium" conservation significance.

It said: "…the building is closely associated with Liverpool’s world-renowned music culture.

"The building is of some modest local interest due to its unusual art-deco architectural design, its warehouse character and its use as a recording studio in the latter decades of the 20th century.

The government has urged people not to move house to try to limit the spread of coronavirus across the UK.

Buyers and renters should delay moving while emergency stay-at-home measures are in place, it said.

The ECHO will continue to feature properties that are being marketed for sale while these emergency measures are in place, but fully supports the steps being taken by the government to stop the spread of the virus.

While there is no need to pull out of transactions, the UK government stated buyers and sellers should follow guidance to stay at home and away from others at all times.

If a property is vacant, people can continue with the transaction, although they must ensure they are following guidelines with regards to home removals.

But if the house is occupied, the government has encouraged all parties to do all they can to amicably agree alternative dates to move.

With this in mind, properties will continue to be featured by the ECHO, as they are still listed for sale by agents across Merseyside.

"It is therefore considered that the existing building possesses some architectural and historic interest.

"Consequently, it is of low medium conservation significance."

One observer called that summing up of Parr Street Studios legacy and significance as "an insult."

Recording inside the Parr Street studio (200)

One person, with knowledge of the discussions, told the ECHO: "I completely get the passion from music fans in this city, reacting to this news.

"But they don't know the business ramifications of this.

"Ultimately, it has to pay the bills.

Can you help us keep Merseyside covered?

"This is an amazing opportunity to do something amazing, as long as the new owners keep to their commitment with regard to the commercial space."

Parr Street Studio producers, Chris Taylor and Rich Turvey, reacted to the news a fortnight ago, and said: "People make records – buildings don’t.

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“The recording studios at Parr Street are a viable and vibrant business – a cultural hub that’s been part of Liverpool’s heartbeat for the past 29 years.

"We’ve made music that is celebrated throughout the world, proudly playing a small part in Liverpool’s role as a city of music."

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