It’s an eye-catching building in a historic part of Middlesbrough and thanks to a six-figure investment by owners Python Properties, it’s going to be a fitting flagship for what’s becoming one of Middlesbrough’s most vibrant commercial areas, the Boho Zone.
Python Properties was formed in 1997 by former cruise ship captain Martin Johnson and chartered surveyor Peter Broome.
It began in the student letting market but has made its name giving historic buildings a new lease of commercial life.
The building, previously known as Royal Middlehaven House, was bought for £150,000 in 2004, with Martin and Peter knowing lots needed to be done, but convinced of its potential.
Peter says: “Even then, there was talk about the Boho Zone and Middlehaven and we wanted to be part of it.
“It sat empty while we worked out what to do with it, but we decided to upgrade it into first class office space.”
Derelict old properties were cleared away and a new Middlesbrough Police Station was built.
Then, after an initial major refurbishment, the building became Python Properties’ first HQ in 2005 and the rest was let to other tenants, including DigitalCity and the planning team for Boho One.
And now, thanks to another big investment by Python Properties, it’s getting a new name, Boho Zero, and a fresh new look, thanks to Bradford architects Yeme and Middlesbrough-based interior design specialists Cocoon & Bauer.
The new, high-spec conversion includes a staffed reception, a café and an art gallery, plus a range of business accommodation on the other two floors, with suites from 150 sq ft to 4,000 sq ft.
Several businesses are already, or are going to be, based there, including Virtual Armour, Viral Effect and First Choice Recruitment, as well as professional service businesses Watson Woodhouse and Halliday Reeves.
And if all goes to plan, Boho Zero should be fully let before long.
Martin says: “It’s a modern building which particularly appeals to young tech companies that have come from the Boho idea and become very successful.”
As at Python Properties’ award-winning Cargo Fleet Offices, the art gallery is proving popular.
Martin says: “A French designer once looked at our gallery system with the regular change of exhibitions and said ‘It will allow the building to breathe’.”
And for Peter and Martin, the business as a whole is all about breathing new life into buildings to benefit the region they love.
Martin’s a Boro boy and while Peter’s originally from Lancashire – “nobody’s perfect,” Martin jokes – both are passionate about their business mission.
Martin says: “I was becoming exasperated by the enthusiasm for knocking down our historical buildings.
We’ve made it our business that if there’s a decent building to be saved, we take an interest.”
Other flagship projects for Python Properties include the Co-operative Buildings on Linthorpe Road, developments in Bolton and Bradford, and its current home, the former steelworks buildings at Cargo Fleet.
Martin recalls: “My dad, Fred Johnson, was an accountant and used to work there when it was the old steel company HQ.
“I remember going to his office, sitting there in my short trousers. It was surrounded by steelworks back then – it means a lot to have the opportunity to restore it to its former glory.”
The Covid crisis has “slowed things down a bit”, with contractors having to operate in a Covid-secure way, while there’s also a slight backlog with materials. But in general, things are looking very encouraging.
Peter says: “Last year was very successful and we’ve had the best start to a year we can remember.
Possibly last year, people were holding back, waiting for things to get back to normal. Now they seem to be thinking, ‘We can’t wait forever to move forward, we’re going to have to get on with it’.
“We’ve improved our tenant level and worked closely with them to ensure flexibility throughout the pandemic.”
Martin smiles: “If they are happy and successful, our business is too, allowing us to continue to make improvements.”
A desire to do the right thing for the area is at the heart of Python Properties’ ethos, as is establishing a community in its buildings, with tenants supporting each other.
Covid doesn’t seem to have affected demand for office space within Python Properties’ buildings.
Martin says: “We’ll see how it plays out but we’re making sure our buildings are the best in the area.
“But we’ve never had so many inquiries about office space, so rather than there being less demand, the reverse is true for us.
“And we have a flexible approach which allows people to downsize or upsize within our buildings – although usually they want to expand into larger space within the building.”
As for Boho Zero, Peter says: “Royal Middlehaven House was the first building to be regenerated down there and it’s exciting to see it go full circle and be part of the greater regeneration scheme.
“The recent Budget announcements were positive for the region and we look forward to seeing the local economy thrive and to carrying on refurbishing our buildings and improving them for the benefit of everybody.”