WHEN entrepreneur Dirk Mischendahl was head of events company Logistik, he regularly cycled past an empty grade two listed Victoria Mill near his work and admired its historical beauty.
When the building came up for sale in 2013 he jumped at the chance of buying it and transforming it into a hub for creative businesses.
“I’d had an idea for a while that I wanted to encourage small businesses and give them the opportunity to grow,” he said. “I want to mix creative businesses with larger organisations and create a community.”
Mr Mischendahl bought Castleton Mill, a former textile mill on the Leeds Liverpool Canal in Armley, from receivers and has so far spent £2.2m developing it. The building, which dates back to 1836, is about 80 per cent complete.
“It’s been a bigger project than I thought it would be,” admitted Mr Mischendahl, who has a 50 per cent stake in the building. “But it’s a phenomenal building and I wanted to do a good job, keeping as many original features as possible.”
The sandstone floors have been put back down using reclaimed Yorkshire stone at the cost of £100,000 per floor. Other original features include vaulted ceilings, original wooden beams and large open windows.
The 15,000 sq ft workspace is already 40 per cent let to firms including the PR company Chatter, graphic design agency B&W and stationery company, Prints with Feelings.
About 20-30 people currently work in the building but at capacity there could be 300 people based there.
A reception area is due to be completed this week and the building will be officially launched to the market in September with rents from £30 per person per week, including internet, overheads and service charge.
Castleton Mill also houses a large studio space for events, exhibitions and photo shoots.
Mr Mischendahl’s vision is to be able to provide small business loans to start-ups based there along with mentor advice. He is actively looking for investors to help with the funding.
This is the entrepreneur’s second foray into property development. As part of Project Space Leeds, the charity behind the transformation of the former Tetley Brewery in Leeds, he was involved in the development of the site into a contemporary art space, bar and restaurant.
Mr Mischendahl, who has a 50 per cent stake in the mill, said he was putting into practice some of the lessons he had learned from The Tetley, where he is chief executive.
“The less you have to rely on commercial funding the better,” he said. “I also learned the importance of getting in good a good contractor and architect.”
Castleton Mill has been funded privately and through banks. “But it’s not geared massively high,” Mr Mischendahl added.
He said he is open to future property restoration projects but the market is too competitive at the moment. “A lot of people are looking because Leeds is quite buoyant,” he said. “We lucked out with Castleton Mill. What is up for sale at the moment is too expensive.”
Nevertheless, he believes Armley is the next big Leeds suburb to undergo a makeover. “Armley is becoming a really interesting place,” he said. “There is a lot of development going on around the canal and waterways and I think it’s going to really take off in the next 10 to 15 years.”
Change of pace for entrepreneur
Dirk Mischendahl said selling his 43 per cent stake in Logistik in 2014 had completely changed his life.
He founded the events company with a team of four in 1996 and built to 100 staff and turnover of around £18m. He has since developed natural ice cream company Northern Bloc. Customers of the company, which has eight staff and a £300,000 turnover, include Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Grand Theatre in Leeds. He also set up Demon Leisure, which launched The Brotherhood bar in Leeds. “Life has changed completely,” he said. “It has made me more focused.”