London Entrepreneur Sees Gold Mine in Unused Subway Stations
A former JPMorgan Chase & Co. executive aims to turn 26 unused London subway stations and bomb shelters into shops and tourist attractions after raising 200 million pounds ($319 million) from investors.
Ajit Chambers, chief executive officer of Old London Underground Co., met Mayor Boris Johnson yesterday to discuss the plan. Chambers agreed to provide more information on potential sites, costs and the work needed to convert the stations, according to an e-mail from Johnson’s office.
“We’ve set up the construction teams, the finance availability and the investment to renovate underground space,” Chambers said in an interview. He declined to identify the investors.
Old London Underground plans to open the first site, Brompton Road station, in time for the 2012 Olympic Games in east London, Chambers said. The station, owned by the Ministry of Defence, has been shuttered since the mid-1950s after serving as the headquarters of southern England’s anti-aircraft defenses during World War II.
Each station would cost 17 million pounds to 34 million pounds to renovate and they would all be opened within five years, according to Chambers. That’s if he can convince Johnson that developing empty parts of the London Underground network, also known as the Tube, won’t come at public expense.
Transport for London, the Tube’s operator, “has already looked closely at these proposals and highlighted the huge safety challenges and massive potential costs they involve,” the mayor’s office said. Johnson’s priority is “the upgrade of the Tube and delivering the passenger improvements that Londoners require.”
Chambers, 38, said he could generate more than 300 million pounds in annual revenue from turning the derelict sites into restaurants, gyms, museums and art galleries.
At the Brompton Road station he aims to open a members club on the roof of the above-ground portion and house the London Fire Brigade museum in its tunnels and shafts, he said in the interview inside the disused property.
The London Underground is the world’s oldest subterranean rail network, according to Transport for London. Brompton Road station opened in 1906 to ferry passengers along the Piccadilly Line until its temporary closure during World War II, when it was used as a war room.
Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler’s deputy, was interrogated there by the Defence Ministry after he crash-landed his plane in Scotland in 1941 seeking to broker a peace deal, said Glenn Purkis, a Ministry of Defence employee who manages offices above the defunct station.
The station, nestled between the affluent neighborhoods of Knightsbridge and South Kensington, reopened after the war before its use as a station ceased in 1955, Purkis said.
Aldwych in central London’s theater district would be among the next stations to be developed, according to Chambers. The stop, which was used as a bomb shelter during both world wars, has been closed since 1994.
Chambers founded Old London Underground in 2009. He said his plan will unlock the value of historic underground real estate that had largely been forgotten.
“The investors are helping the U.K. put health and safety into these spaces and in return they get to make money,” Chambers said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Spillane in London at firstname.lastname@example.org.