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UK tycoon bets on iconic London site amid Brexit woe

John Hitchcox planning a performing arts, cultural district in Kensington

London

AS tension mounts around Brexit, British property tycoon John Hitchcox says he's staying clear of residential developments in the UK and focusing instead on raising £700 million (S$1.24 billion) to redevelop an iconic west London exhibition centre.

"London is a great city and will always be a great city, and this will keep us going," Mr Hitchcox, the chairman of the Yoo Capital investment firm, said in an interview. "It's a very long-term project: Brexit is going to be over, and we're going to be in construction for the next three years."

The proposed redevelopment, centred around the 132-year-old Olympia exhibition centre, will include an additional two hotels and theatres, new performance spaces, 670,000 square feet of offices and a hub for technology companies, the developer said.

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His firm bought the 14-acre site - set in the wealthy boroughs of Kensington and Hammersmith - in 2017 for US$475 million with the help of German backers.

"The idea is to turn it into a performing arts, cultural district," Mr Hitchcox said of the site, which currently hosts exhibitions by 130,000 businesses and 225 shows annually. "The beating heart of our business is exhibitions and events."

His firm halted investments two years ago in the UK residential market, which he sees as having "gone into a paralysis" amid concerns about the impact of Brexit on the UK economy and stamp duties levied on wealthier homes and investment properties.

"Taxation is too much of a burden on the industry," said Mr Hitchcock. BLOOMBERG