Set for a grand opening on 5 May, the eagerly anticipated St Pancras Renaissance Hotel is the exclamation point to decades of rejuvenation and billions of pounds in private and public investment in London’s decaying King’s Cross neighbourhood. Transforming an area once known for its street prostitutes, congested traffic and fast food outlets into a dynamic, attractive place has been a lengthy project. The question now is will Londoners learn to love the area and make a point of sticking around instead of just changing tube lines here?
“It’s the missing jigsaw piece,” says Harry Handelsman, chief executive of the Manhattan Loft Corporation and helmsman of the five-star hotel development as well as 67 luxury apartments attached to St Pancras International, Eurostar’s London terminal since 2007. The station is a gateway to the city for the 9.5m passengers who travel here annually from Paris and Brussels (with direct trains from Frankfurt and Amsterdam set to begin service in 2013). Together with King’s Cross station across the road, it’s Europe’s busiest transport hub, with national and international rail services, six underground lines and dozens of local bus services.
Much like Rome’s Termini station, or Paris’s Gare du Nord (Eurostar’s endpoint in France), it’s tough to make such a naturally transient, international artery feel liveable. Adding to this, the property market here has been a favourite of buy-to-let investors and parents picking up a flat for their kids studying in London. And towering student residences such as Nido’s pair of 16-storey blocks completed in 2007, have so far attracted few of the cafés, galleries and independent retailers that often follow the university crowd. Crime in the neighbourhood has noticeably decreased, but even then, many believe it’s just been pushed north into neighbouring Camden.
“I don’t think people will stay here [at the Renaissance] because of the neighbourhood,” agrees Handelsman. That is set to change with the next leg of development that includes 743,000 sq m worth of new homes, offices, and a new base for the artsy Central St Martins school. From acres of canal-side parkland to new dining options (Marcus Wareing opens his new restaurant at the Renaissance in May), King’s Cross Central is also incorporating finer details of urban living – not just mega-projects.
Finding a global hotel operator for the St Pancras chambers may be symbolic of how far King’s Cross has come, but it should not be the crowning achievement. Thankfully, it seems the partnership behind the redevelopment is looking beyond the iconic façade of the Renaissance, and know that they will have done their job when the best place to be is not a Royal Suite but when residents can finally enjoy a stroll through what was once a wasteland.