Manchester Reform Synagogue has announced exciting plans for the redevelopment of their synagogue building.
The redevelopment of Manchester Reform Synagogue, better known as Jackson’s Row Synagogue has been a long time coming. It was originally built in 1952, using money from the War Damage Commission, after the previous synagogue building was destroyed on 1 June 1941 during the Manchester Blitz. In recent years the condition of the building has been deteriorating rapidly and the Manchester Reform Congregation, a registered charity, has not had sufficient funds to adequately repair it.
In 2003 the Synagogue Executive Committee began to explore the possibility of rebuilding the synagogue in partnership with commercial developers. Located on an important prime site in the heart of the city, close to the Town Hall, it was decided to approach Sir Howard Bernstein, CEO of Manchester City Council, for his advice. Sir Howard was, and has throughout the ensuing period, been very supportive of the idea and of the synagogue’s future and recommended the enlistment of professional advisors from the outset to take the project forward.
A Synagogue Redevelopment Committee was set up to manage the project comprising Brian Livingstone (then Synagogue Treasurer) as Chair with Danny Savage (current President) and Mark Levy (current Trustee) as active members. Colin Hoffman of Kuits, Solicitors was co-opted to advise on all legal ramifications. A minimum requirements specification was drawn up and an invitation to express interest was issued to the property developer community, resulting in many enthusiastic responses.
After a careful selection process Modus Properties Limited headed by Brendan Flood was chosen as the preferred developer. Brian Livingstone explained: “The choice was made not only because of the apparent strength and experience of a one billion pound organisation that Modus represented, but also, and equally importantly, because of the genuine empathy Brendan felt for the synagogue’s needs and aspirations”. Technical specifications entitled “the Trustees’ Requirements” were drawn up and agreed and in March 2007 agreements were entered into for the redevelopment of the site comprising a new synagogue, with residential apartments above and car parking below.
Negotiations with Manchester City Council in relation to the necessary planning applications were at an advanced stage when everything was brought to an abrupt halt by the financial crisis of 2007/2008, the largest and most severe financial event since the Great Depression. In 2009 Brendan Flood emerged unabashed from the rubble of the property market crash with new partners in the form of footballers Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, trading as the Cuban Group. A new scheme was devised incorporating both a boutique hotel and apartments above the synagogue and new agreements were signed in March 2011, between the synagogue trustees and Cuban, to achieve this.
However once again circumstances conspired to put an end to the new scheme in the form of the decision by Greater Manchester Police Authority to move its headquarters from Bootle Street and put the site, immediately adjacent to the synagogue site, up for sale. This prompted Sir Howard Bernstein and the Manchester City Council to instigate the drawing up of a master plan for a co-ordinated approach to redevelopment of the combined sites including the Abercrombie Pub. The Cuban Group became Jackson’s Row Developments Limited and created an exciting redevelopment concept for the whole combined site, incorporating the new synagogue, which led to acceptance by Manchester City Council of JRDL as the preferred developer and partner in the project.
“The negotiation process has been long and arduous and has become quite complex with so many diverse interests now involved in the project,” said Brian Livingstone “but there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel. We have been concerned to ensure that the goodwill generated by Brendan Flood from the beginning was integral to the new relationship”.
Mark Levy described the synagogue part of the development. “There will be a large oval sanctuary, at ground and first floor levels, similar in size to our current sanctuary. We will be retaining many of its important features including the stained glass windows, depicting scenes from the Bible, and the existing ark. There will be a large function hall, a separate café lounge area, a terrace for a sukkah, a resource centre, study rooms and offices for the rabbi and administrative staff.
Parking will be available in the basement car park. Members are excited about the project and their input into the look and feel of the premises has been invaluable”
The building of the new synagogue is anticipated to take two years from the time the old building is demolished. The redevelopment committee recruited the help of Trevor Lerman, a senior and well respected member of the synagogue, to identify suitable temporary alternative accommodation whilst the new synagogue was being built. Trevor has successfully negotiated with the trustees of the Friends Meeting House, on Mount Street, just around the corner from Jackson’s Row, to provide facilities for Saturday and festival services to be held during the rebuilding period.
Danny Savage is enthusiastic about the future. “It’s not just about a new building. It’s about the Jackson’s Row community surviving and thriving for generations to come. The Movement for Reform Judaism in the UK is as strong as it has been for many years. Our ethos of adapting and reforming has attracted many new members to Jackson’s Row despite our deteriorating facilities. The regeneration of our building offering stunning modern facilities, amenities and function room in the city centre along with ample underground parking facilities, will enable people to access all the facilities we have to offer with ease .We hope to offer a Jewish cultural centre catering not only for our current members, but also for the wider Jewish community, especially those living and working in the city centre. I am delighted and privileged to be part of the team that is working to make it all happen”.