Canary Wharf’s Canadian backer

 
Marion Dakers

CANARY WHARF was the biggest development in the world when work officially began in 1988.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher praised the level of foreign investment in the project – having personally arranged that Olympia & York, run by Paul Reichmann, would finance it.

It had taken almost seven years to secure the commercial backer for the Canary Wharf enterprise zone, but just three years to complete One Canada Square, the centrepiece of the area that held the title of Britain’s tallest building for two decades.

The project proved Reichmann’s “ability to see potential value in places where other developers could not”, according to Canary Wharf Group boss George Iacobescu.

Reichmann, the second-youngest of six siblings, had built a formidable property empire starting in Toronto, where his family settled after fleeing Austria during the 1930s.

He and his brother Albert oversaw a 25-storey tower in the Canadian city in 1970, before developing a string of skyscrapers built on landfill in Manhattan.

But his contrarian vision could not prevent Olympia & York filing for administration in 1992, just over a year after One Canada Square was finished, after becoming weighed down by debt in the teeth of a recession.

Reichmann’s family made a successful bid for the Canary Wharf assets three years later, using firepower from George Soros, Franklin Mutual and Saudi Prince Al Waleed to beat a rival bid from Morgan Stanley.

He remained on the board until Songbird took over in 2004.

TIMELINE: CANARY WHARF
1960s London’s Docklands is stuck in a steady decline as a trade port.

1981 London sets up the Docklands Development Corporation and declares the now-derelict area an enterprise zone.

1987 Olympia & York signs a deal to redevelop 12.2m square feet of land, after a request from Margaret Thatcher. The DLR opens, followed by London City Airport.

1990 One Canada Square is completed, becoming the country’s tallest building.

1992 Olympia & York in administration after struggling for tenants.

1995 O&Y’s Paul Reichmann leads a consortium to buy back the site, where around 13,000 people now work.

1999 Canary Wharf Group (CWG) floats on the London Stock Exchange.

2001 Lehman Brothers take 1m square feet of office space in Bank Street.

2004 Songbird takes over CWG.

2009 Reichmann gives up his stake, at the behest of lenders.

2013 More than 100,000 now work in the Canary Wharf area.