With 38 cinemas throughout the UK, United Cinemas International (UCI) is a dream property client, and DLA is the main firm that has benefited from the company's expansionist strategy.
UCI, a joint venture between Paramount and Universal, took space in Manchester's recently redeveloped Printworks building, the former Daily Mirror site, on which DLA, led by property partner Anita Weightman, advised.
UCI has used DLA for over five years, after general counsel and senior vice-president of business affairs Justin Ribbons joined the company. “The reason why,” says Ribbons, “is that we had a media lawyer working on these deals before, who saw it more as a media matter than to do with property.”
However, he candidly refuses to name which firm was retained by UCI prior to his arrival.
Since UCI is based in the North West, it ventured no further than its doorstep to find a firm that could provide specialist property advice on the building of large multiplex cinemas.”There are some London property firms that could handle it, but we knew there wouldn't be a difference in service. We looked beyond the firms' fees and at the operations behind and found a firm that we thought we could work with. I wanted someone that could focus on the job because I wanted to be more hands-off.”
One of DLA's first pieces of work for UCI was announced in 1996, involving the construction of a 12-screen multiplex in Cardiff Bay, which was part of a programme to invest £100m in the opening of six multiplexes across the UK. As well as being in on the Printworks development, Richardson Developments was the company behind this scheme.
Interestingly, DLA also acted for Cooperative Wholesale Society and Cooperative Insurance Society on the Printworks deal, led by the firm's Manchester-based managing partner Roy Beckett. DLA had its work cut out on the Printworks deal. Ribbons says that UCI had to agree upfront to take a place in the development before the deal could be completed. This meant completing the transaction in just one week. “On the deal, [Richardson] needed it to be funded for it to be assured from a financially viable point of view,” he says.
Although UCI uses a variety of firms, including Baker & McKenzie, CMS Cameron McKenna, Denton Wilde Sapte and Eversheds, its relationship with DLA is key. Ribbons says: “The construction of our cinemas is complicated – it's an extremely detailed piece of hi-fi, and that's why I like DLA. We have a relationship, since each time we use them we don't have to teach them all over again.
“We live in an age of communication, but it's nice to sit down and be able to go through documentation with your firm. The service from regional firms has improved, so you're getting a London service from a Manchester firm.”
The imminent arrival of Harvey Nichols to the Shambles, one of Manchester's largest sites of redevelopment, has gone a long way in securing unending interest in the region. It has also served to add another piece of work to Norton Rose's portfolio, since the firm is the retailer's long-term legal adviser.
Norton Rose has acted for Harvey Nichols since 1996, when it floated on the London Stock Exchange. The float was hugely oversubscribed that April and the retailer announced that the investment gained from its listing would be used for further expansion.
Since then it has opened in Leeds and is opening a smaller store in Birmingham; it is also set to launch in Edinburgh next year and Manchester will follow in 2003. Norton Rose has had a hand in all but one of these transactions – the retailer took advice from Ashurst Morris Crisp for the planning and development work of the Birmingham store.
Finance director at Harvey Nichols Clive Morton says: “The only reason we went to Ashursts was that we had so much work going on we thought it was not appropriate to use the same firm all the time, and to introduce a degree of competitiveness.”
The Shambles was badly damaged by the terrorist bomb attack on the city in 1996, and Harvey Nichols' impending launch gives the area a boost in terms of image – something that both Harvey Nichols and Prudential, which provided the store's 198-year rent-free lease, recognised. The deal, led by Norton Rose property partner Peter Burrows, secured a commitment by Harvey Nichols, before Prudential signed on the dotted line, for a long-term lease on the site from owner Manchester City Council.
The transaction also included a fixed-price deal between Prudential and Harvey Nichols on the construction of the store, for which the retailer will pay out more than £24m. Coupled with this, Norton Rose has also had to grapple with a matrix of property matters because the store will have a shared access and a shared loading bay with the mammoth Marks & Spencer store nearby.
While the company has plans to extend its reach over the UK by opening a host of new stores in the future, there will not be any run-off work for local firms. Morton is adamant that he will continue to use either Norton Rose or Ashursts for property
matters, simply because the relationship is there already.
But the fact that the store retained space in the region will ensure the take-up of space on the site, indirectly raising the hope of property work for local lawyers as companies take space in the Shambles.