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Visions of Giris, the master builder

The man behind the complex rising from this giant hole has another project, a 250-seat theatre

11 August, 2017 — By John Gulliver

Props criss-cross the giant hole in the ground at the development site off Upper Street, where arcade-type shops will bring Covent Garden to Islington

OPEN the door of the viewing platform and there before you is the biggest construction site in Islington – with all the cacophony you would expect. And just a few hundred yards behind you is the almost tremulous – and comparatively quiet – traffic of Upper Street.

The giant hole embraces the centrepiece of a massive development site that incorporates the vision of a new residential, shopping, leisure complex that will transform Upper Street – bringing a new version of Covent Garden to Islington.

Note the monstrously yellow fingered props criss-crossing the site, which are meant to shore up the sides as the hole deepens.

The management team, headed by Chris Dunn, has been in contact with local schools hoping that teachers will bring pupils to view the massive engineering work so as to inspire a new generation of building craftsmen and engineers.

By early next year, the development will be practically completed, the new flats ready for occupation, including the conversion of the beautiful Edwardian Royal Mail office with an exotic ‘Zen’ garden at its heart.

But there is something missing – the man who is playing a major part in the development, Giris Rabinovitch.

And that is where he wants to be – Hitchcockian-style, the man behind the scenes, unobserved by the media.

Giris Rabinovitch: esoteric tastes for a developer

I met him on Monday to discuss the development – its gestation alone is worthy of a study. Astonishingly, Mr Rabinovitch and fellow directors of the Sager Group began to put together the site, acquiring buildings one by one, as far back as 2003.

His vision is to attract people to the arcade-type shops planned for the site, to be known as Islington Square.

He doesn’t particularly want to rely on hoovering up people from the busy Angel end of Upper Street. He believes there is such a great deal of “understated wealth” in surrounding residential streets that the development will on its own merits attract people.

He has always wanted it to be different from other shopping complexes, bland, predictable, with well-known brands.

Apart from that there are his own tastes – which are rather esoteric for a developer.

To my surprise, he is a man of the theatre, which he loves. Though he has little choice but to take visitors to London to fashionable musicals, he describes such evenings with a shrug of the shoulders. He is more into straight theatre.

The day I spoke to him he had tried, but failed, to buy tickets for Ink, a play about the media, at the Almeida, next door to his site.

Now, he is overseeing a plan to build a 250-seater theatre as a replacement for the King’s Head theatre which is going before Islington Council for approval.

Generously, he has arranged to kick-start the theatre project with a gift of £600,000 to get building work underway. Built into the proposal is an agreement to make a peppercorn-rental charge for the site for 25 years.

All is going to plan – the theatre people are keen to raise capital for the completion of the scheme, and overtures to English Heritage and the Arts Council have been made.

Mr Rabinovitch should be bright and optimistic about the project. But the Canadian son of Russian emigres, who spent many years in New York involved in community work, is a cautious man.

If you consider the vision for his Islington Square scheme can date back more than 14 years, he is putting new meaning into the words “long termism” when it comes to business ventures.

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