There I was standing on the roof of an unfinished building in Southampton’s Ocean Village overlooking the marina, quaffing champagne.
It was a sunny if cold-ish Friday afternoon and the mood among the 100 or so invited guests was most definitely optimistic.
We were there having a first look at the progress being made on the latest new development to grace this ambitious city: the five-star, 85 bedroom Southampton Harbour Hotel and Spa which is due to open in the summer of 2017.
Make no mistake this will be no ordinary hotel. Its unique eye-catching design has been inspired by the dramatic shape of a luxury yacht with the aim of reflecting the city’s thriving marine culture. Luxury will pervade everything. As well as an indulgent Harbour Spa, there will be a Jetty restaurant nurtured by Patron Chef Alex Aitken together with a rooftop champagne bar – naturally. Harbour Hotels, which has 13 properties across the south of England, and Nicolas James Group, who are managing the development, are to be congratulated for their verve and innovation.
I have been following progress from Lee Peck Media’s offices just 100 metres away so to actually be “on board” was a huge thrill for me personally and scratched a serious itch. I guess it’s the journalist in me – forever nosey. In the event I was not disappointed. Apart from the sublime October weather, a string quartet, delicious champagne and tasty nibbles, a towering cruise ship was berthed to the rear (stern?) of the hotel. The framing was as exquisite as the timing.
I have no doubt the hotel will become a major landmark and tourist destination not least during the annual Southampton Boat Show – the biggest on-water show in Europe – when it will become a popular attraction offering additional restaurants and facilities in a waterfront setting. Fittingly the hotel will feature private moorings for its seafaring guests.
But more than being a landmark building, I think it could help to redefine Southampton as a city. Properly positioned, Harbour Hotel could become a signature, an architectural icon which symbolises what the city is all about: progressive, ambitious, even daring. In my mind’s eye I see the Harbour Hotel in the title sequence in the regional television news; I see its image on the web; in social media; in national newspapers talking about Southampton being in the top 10 places to invest, live, work and visit.
Over the years Southampton has had many critics keen to talk the city down. Under achiever being just one of the negative labels.
I sense this phase might be coming to an end. Despite a very difficult economic climate in recent years, Southampton is being slowly transformed. WestQuay Watermark which adjoins WestQuay shopping centre, is well on the way; the Culture Quarter, already a vibrant new addition to the city is due for completion next year with the opening of a theatre and art gallery; the public realm around Central Station looks pretty impressive. And then there’s Ocean Village with its new apartments and restaurants accompanied by the Harbour Hotel.
Without doubt Southampton is on an exciting new adventure – and I for one am delighted, in some small way, to be a part of it.